x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

EU clears tough new anti-smoking rules

Sweeping new regulations will include large health warnings on cigarette packs and a ban on menthol and other flavourings.

BRUSSELS // European politicians approved sweeping new regulations governing the multibillion-dollar tobacco market today, including drastic health warnings on cigarette packs and a ban on menthol and other flavourings to further curb smoking. They stopped short, however, of tough limits on electronic cigarettes.

The European Parliament vote in Strasbourg came after months of bitter debate and an unusually strong lobbying campaign by the tobacco industry, which decries the regulations as disproportionate and limiting consumer freedom. The parliament dismissed many of the industry’s arguments, agreeing on a slightly watered-down version of the proposed legislation.

The legislators voted to impose warning labels – with the inclusion of gruesome pictorials, for example showing cancer-infested lungs – covering 65 per cent of cigarette packs and to be shown above the brand logo. Current warning labels cover only 30-40 per cent of packages.

The legislature still must reach a compromise with the 28 European Union governments on certain points before the rules can enter into force. Diplomats say a deal could be struck by the end of the year.

The new rules were viewed by the World Health Organization and EU health officials as an important milestone – but not the end of their quest to stop people from smoking and keep teens from ever picking up a cigarette.

Smoking bans in public, limits on tobacco firms’ advertising, and other measures over the past decade have seen the number of smokers fall from an estimated 40 per cent of the EU’s 500 million citizens to 28 per cent now. Still, treatment of smoke-related diseases costs about 25 billion euros ($34 billion) a year, and the bloc estimates there are around 700,000 smoking-related deaths per annum across the 28-nation bloc.

Legislators also voted for new limits on advertising for electronic cigarettes, but rejected a measure that would have restricted them to medical use only. The battery-operated products, which are enjoying a boom in the United States and many European countries, turn nicotine into a vapour inhaled by the user and are often marketed as a less harmful alternative to tobacco. Many health experts say e-cigarettes are useful for people trying to quit or cut down on nicotine.

Armando Peruga, a tobacco control expert at WHO in Geneva, said regulating e-cigarettes wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing and that WHO is currently evaluating their safety and effectiveness. “We do think e-cigarettes could be useful, but we need more information. We have not yet ruled them out. We do think they could be helpful for some smokers.”

* Associated Press