European commission moves to outlaw cigarettes with ‘characterising flavour’, and seeks bigger health warnings
The European commission has called for strongly flavoured cigarettes to be banned and unveiled draft legislation to impose graphic images of the risks of smoking on all cigarette packaging.
Reporting that 700,000 people die in Europe every year from smoking-related diseases, the costs of treatment for which run to €25bn (£20bn) plus another €8bn in lost productivity, the commission outlined a battery of measures aimed at curbing smoking.
“We’re not prohibiting smoking; we’re making it less attractive for everyone,” said Tonio Borg of Malta, the health commissioner. “Sometimes you need shocking pictures to shock people into stopping smoking.”
The draft directive unveiled on Wednesday has to be endorsed by member governments and the European parliament, which could take three years.
The directive would ban cigarettes with a “characterising flavour”, such as menthol, strawberry or vanilla, on the grounds that they encourage young people to start smoking. “If it’s tobacco, it should look like tobacco and taste like tobacco,” said Borg.
Mandatory pictorial health warnings would cover at least 75% of cigarette packets.
Borg said the commission was not treating people “in a stupid way” or waging a crusade against smoking. “Everyone will benefit,” he said.
Glenis Wilmott, Labour leader in the European parliament, said: “Cigarette packets should look like they contain a dangerous drug, rather than perfume or lipstick. The commission proposal does not go far enough. We need to get rid of all branding from cigarette packets, as it is the only space that the tobacco industry has left to market their products.
“Tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death across the UK, Europe and the world. One in two long-term smokers are killed by tobacco, and the smoking rate amongst young women is on the rise.”
The tobacco directive has been wreathed in controversy since October, when Borg’s predecessor as health commissioner, John Dalli, also from Malta, was sacked by the commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, over allegations of sleaze. The claims involved Swedish tobacco lobbyists who were said to be seeking the lifting of an EU ban on snus, a type of orally administered, smoke-free tobacco.
Dalli has denied wrongdoing. Under the proposals, snus remains outlawed in the EU except, as previously, in Sweden.
The measures directed at cigarette smoking were not extended to cigars and pipe tobacco, on the grounds that their consumption was insufficiently widespread and remained unattractive to young people.
The commission said 70% of smokers start before the age of 18, and the aim of the draft law was to cut cigarette smoking by 2% within five years.
“This proposal ensures that attractive packaging and flavourings are not used as a marketing strategy,” said Borg.