MEPs pass new rules on sale of tobacco

New rules to take some of the glamour out of smoking were passed by the European Parliament, but the industry’s massive lobbying campaign won important concessions.

MEPs voted to ban attractive cigarette and perfume type packs and have at least 65% of all packets covered in warnings, an increase on the current 30%-40%.

Packs of fewer than 20 cigarettes would be banned but a proposal to make the minimum size of roll-our- own tobacco 40g was defeated following an amendment from Irish MEPs.

Fianna Fáil MEP Pat the Cope Gallagher said the Imperial Tobacco company in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, warned him jobs were at risk in the plant that employs 120 people if the minimum size was increased.

Flavours such as strawberry, vanilla and chocolate will be phased out over three years, while menthol gets a stay of eight years. Most member states, however, want to ban menthol now so the phasing out period may be less.

Slims, specially targeted at young women, however, will remain on the market under the parliament’s vote but with member states anxious to ban them, they could still be phased out.

Some of the strongest lobbying was over e-cigarettes which are not regulated at all at present. They contain nicotine and other chemicals which vary according to the manufacturer but which they do not have to list.

MEPs voted not to classify them as medical devices, as nicotine patches currently are, but instead to consider them as tobacco products with a limit of 30mg/ml of nicotine and not for sale to under 18 year olds. Member states want them classified as medical products.

As a tobacco product, they would not have to be tested and passed as safe for use or be accompanied by information saying what they contain and when they may be unsafe to use.

The parliament, however, said manufacturers should supply the authorities with a list of the ingredients and they should be subject to the same advertising restrictions as tobacco.

New rules on what companies can add to tobacco products means additives would be limited to those on an explicit list together with their concentrations, and permission for other additives would have to be given by the European Commission.

To stop wholesale smuggling of cigarettes, MEPs voted for identifiers on all packet and on transport packaging that would allow them to be traced back.

Independent MEP Nessa Childers said she regretted that some of the directive was weakened, especially given that more than 5,000 Irish people die unnecessarily from tobacco-related illnesses and the cost of treating such illness was a huge drain on the hard-pressed health service.

Currently, 700,000 people die each year of smoking- related diseases. The number of smokers in the EU fell from 40% in the EU15 in 2002 to 28% in the EU27 last year. The new rules will not be finalised until the end of the year.

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