MEPs rejected plans to ban so called slim cigarettes that are particularly attractive to young smokers and opted to phase out menthol cigarettes over eight years rather than three.

They also backed away from proposals to increase the size of health warnings on cigarette packs to cover 75 per cent of the box agreeing instead to the 65 per cent figure suggested by the industry. The current requirement for health warnings is for 30 per cent minimum coverage on one side and 40 per cent on the other.

The moves will be seen as a victory for the tobacco industry, which has spent more than 1m lobbying MEPs to reject the more stringent safety proposals agreed by European governments. The differences must now be resolved before May 2014, when there are new MEP elections.

This is a shameful day for the European Parliament, as a centre right majority has done the bidding of the tobacco industry and voted for weaker rules, which are totally at odds with citizens interests and public health, said Carl Schlyter, who co chairs the public health committee. The parliament s public health committee voted for robust legislation, with a view to tackling the 700,000 Europeans who die from smoking every year, but the core proposals have been scaled back. The only real victors from today s vote are big tobacco firms, whose aggressive and expensive lobbying campaigns have paid off.

But the EU Health Commissioner, Tonio Borg, called the vote positive . I am confident the revised Directive on Tobacco Products can still be adopted within the mandate of the current Parliament, he said.

Last week, The Independent revealed the scale of the tobacco industry lobbying operation. Philip Morris International, the maker of Marlboro, spent 1.2m wooing MEPs to water down safety proposals. A company spreadsheet showed it used 161 staff and consultants. By 22 June last year, 233 MEPs 31 per cent of the total had been met by PMI at least once.

MEPs rejected calls for e cigarettes to be subject to the same regulation as nicotine replacement therapies such as patches and gum. The lack of tobacco in e cigarettes means they are almost certainly a much safer way of getting a nicotine hit than smoking cigarettes, according to Cancer Research.

Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat MEP, said E cigs can be a game changer. Hundreds of former smokers have written to tell me that they have helped them give up cigarettes when nothing else worked. They are successful because they are not medicines but products that smokers enjoy using as an alternative to cigarettes.

Eu passes tough tobacco regulations, but stops short on e-cigarettes

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European lawmakers approved sweeping new regulations governing the multibillion dollar tobacco market on Tuesday, including bigger health warnings on cigarette packs and a ban on menthol and other flavorings to further curb smoking. They stopped short, however, of tough limits on electronic cigarettes.

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

The lawmakers voted to impose warning labels with the inclusion of gruesome pictures, for example showing cancer infested lungs covering 65 percent of cigarette packs and to be shown above the brand logo. Current warning labels cover only 30 to 40 percent of packages.

The legislature still must reach a compromise with the 28 EU 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 (WHO) 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 places, limits on tobacco firms’ advertising, and other measures over the past decade have seen the number of smokers fall from an estimated 40 percent of the EU’s 500 million citizens to 28 percent now. Still, treatment of smoke related diseases costs about 25 billion euros ($34 billion) a year, and an estimated 700,000 smoking related deaths per year 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.

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The battery operated products, which are widely popular in the United States and many European countries, turn nicotine into a vapor 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,” Peruga said. “We have not yet ruled them out. We do think they could be helpful for some smokers.”

Linda McAvan, a member of the European Parliament and Britain’s opposition Labor Party, said she expects tougher rules on electronic cigarettes down the line, and that most EU governments want to see them regulated.

“We want to make sure they aren’t marketed as gateway products for young people,” she said.

The European Parliament also voted to ban additives and flavorings like chocolate or vanilla, starting three years after the legislation will come into force, and menthol, five years after the legislation is in place.

Opponents argued fruity or other pleasant aromas entice novices to smoke. Lawmakers also banned small packages said to entice young smokers, but rejected a ban on slim cigarettes popular with women.

“We are not telling Europeans what to do, but we don’t want the industry to mislead the young,” McAvan stressed. “We want tobacco products that look and taste like tobacco. There won’t be any more lipstick or perfume style cigarettes packets,” she added.

Lobbying against the measure was led by Philip Morris International Inc., which owns several brands such as Marlboro and said the new legislation was “deeply flawed.” It condemned what it called “oversized graphic health warnings and pack standardization.”

The vote “failed to take into account the views of millions of EU citizens, including our employees, retailers, tobacco growers and adult consumers who will be impacted by these measures,” the company said in a statement.

Philip Morris, with $8.5 billion of sales and 12,500 employees in Europe, has also claimed the regulation could result in up to 175,000 job losses and lost tax revenues of 5 billion euros ($6.8 billion) per year.

Leftists broadly favored the new regulations, joined by many conservatives concerned about the costs of smoking related diseases to national health care systems. The package was adopted in a 560 92 vote with 32 abstentions.

Associated Press