Tobacco products in the EU will soon feature less attractive packaging and menthol cigarettes will be on their way out, in a move that mirrors Australia’s crackdown on big tobacco.

The bloc’s parliament approved new rules on Wednesday aimed at curbing smoking.

“By ensuring that tobacco products look and taste like tobacco products, the new rules will help to reduce the number of people who start smoking in the EU,” Tonio Borg, the bloc’s health commissioner, said on Tuesday.

He argued that tobacco has a “devastating effect” on health, pointing to estimates that 700,000 Europeans die of tobacco related diseases every year, that smokers live an average of 14 years less than non smokers and that they spend more years “in poor health”.

In a world first Australia introduced plain packaging in late 2012 with all cigarettes and tobacco products now sold in drab olive brown packs.

The UK is set to follow Australia’s lead with England likely to introduce plain packs before the 2015 election.

The Scottish government is aiming for a 2014 15 implementation while the Republic of Ireland is already examining legislation.

The new measures in the EU have been controversial and the focus of intense lobbying by the tobacco industry.

Critics argue the reforms will limit consumer choice, fuel the illegal trade in cigarettes, cut government revenues and cause job losses.

The new legislation will require tobacco companies to cover 65 per cent of the front and back of their packages with health warnings, including graphic photos, for instance, of diseases caused by smoking. Countries wishing to introduce plain packaging could do so.

Flavoured tobacco products with high sales volumes will be banned.

“The new measures … will help to prevent the next generation of smokers from being recruited,” said British EU MP Linda McAvan, who shepherded the proposals through the legislature.

“The overwhelming majority of smokers start before their 18th birthday.”

The parliament approved the measures in a 514 66 vote, with 58 abstentions.

EU governments are now expected to grant the final approval to the tobacco reforms on March 14. The move should be a formality, since member states already informally agreed to the compromise package with parliament in December.

Countries would then have two years to incorporate the new rules into their national laws.

In 2012, 28 per cent of the EU’s 500 million citizens were believed to be smokers. Some 700,000 Europeans are estimated to die of tobacco related diseases every year.

Glaxosmithkline asking for tougher regulation on e-cigarettes

Silver eagle brand cigarettes

By Marcus Johnson

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline is asking the EU for tougher regulation of E Cigarettes. E Cigarettes are in competition with the drug company s own Nicorette gums and other related products. Pharmaceutical companies Johnson & Johnson and Novartis AG also make smoking cessation products. The UK already has plans to regulate the E Cigarettes industry, requiring companies producing the products to license E Cigarettes as a nicotine replacement therapy. Licensing E Cigarettes as a medicine will bring this market more in step with the pharmaceutical industry, as far as requirements in the development and marketing of products under strict medical regulations. GlaxoSmithKline s Vice President of European public affairs, Sophie Crousse, has stated that her company feels the E Cigarette industry is creating medical products. “We believe in responsible and proportionate regulation for all nicotine containing products as medicinal products,” Crousse said in an email. The European Commission is looking at changing its current Tobacco Products Directive in order to regulate new tobacco related products such as E Cigarettes. European industry experts believe that E Cigarettes will produce over $7 billion in sales by the end of 2014.

Late last year, the EU and the European Parliament decided that the E Cigarettes with the highest nicotine content would need to be marketed as a medicine. However, GlaxoSmithKline is lobbying for all E Cigarettes on the market to be labeled as a medicine, in addition to banning advertisements for E Cigarette products. Simon Steel, a spokesman for GlaxoSmithKline, said the company is concerned about safety. “Safety is our number one priority and we support the smoker s right to choose from a selection of products that have well established safety and efficacy profile in helping them quit smoking.”