26th February 2014 Health campaigners are hailing a decision by the European Parliament to endorse tougher new rules to make tobacco products less attractive to younger people.

The legislation, which has already been informally agreed with EU health ministers, would require all cigarette packs to carry pictorial health warnings covering the majority of their surface.

The draft legislation would also regulate electronic cigarettes (e cigarettes) either as medicinal products if they claim to help smokers to quit, or as tobacco products.

The legislation was approved by 514 votes to 66, with 58 abstentions.

‘Big step forward for tobacco control’

After the vote, Labour MEP Linda McAvan, who steered the proposed law through the European Parliament, said in a statement “This is the culmination of years of work against the background of intense lobbying from the tobacco industry and its front groups. The new measures are a big step forward for tobacco control, and will help to prevent the next generation of smokers from being recruited.”

The draft legislation would mean

  • More prominent health warnings Current legislation requires that health warnings cover at least 30% of the area of the front of the pack and 40% of the back. The proposed text would increase this to 65%, front and back, and would require these warnings to be in picture form something that does not happen in the majority of member states at the moment.
  • Controls on e cigarettes E cigarettes would be regulated, either as medicinal products, if they are marketed as a quitting aid, or alternatively as tobacco products. In the latter case, their nicotine concentration should not exceed 20 mg/ml. Refillable e cigarettes would be allowed. Electronic cigarettes should be childproof and should carry health warnings. They would be subject to the same advertising restrictions as tobacco products.
  • Tighter controls on additives There will be a ban on flavourings in cigarettes and roll your own tobacco that would make the product more attractive by giving it a ‘characterising flavour’. Menthol would be banned from 2020. Flavours would be allowed for water pipe tobacco. Certain additives which are damaging to health would be banned.
  • Anti smuggling measures New ‘tracking and tracing’ measures to help prevent tobacco smuggling.

Linda McAvan says “Cigarettes will not be so appealing when chocolate and strawberry flavouring, designed to lure young people into a life long addiction, have been removed from the product making them harder to smoke. Or when they come out of a large, unattractive box covered with graphic health warnings, rather than a slim perfume style packet.

“The move will also pave the way for the UK government to go even further and introduce standardised packaging for cigarettes, as is the case in Australia.”

Ratification by Council of Ministers

The draft legislation will now be submitted for approval by the Council of Ministers on 14th March. The UK and other member states would then have to turn these measures into national law within 2 years.

A spokesperson for the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) tells us by email “The European Tobacco Products Directive will bring in additional regulatory requirements for electronic cigarettes that are not licensed as medicines.

“We want to ensure that nicotine containing products (NCPs), including electronic cigarettes, are available that meet appropriate standards of safety, quality and efficacy to help reduce the harms from smoking. The MHRA continues to encourage companies to voluntarily submit medicines licence applications for electronic cigarettes and other NCPs as medicines.”

Protecting children and young people

Commenting on today’s vote, Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK s head of tobacco policy, says in a statement “Today is a great day for health. The Tobacco Products Directive sets standards on tobacco which will bring real benefits for people s health in the UK and across Europe. We are pleased that the UK and Ireland are already going further than the Directive demands by considering standardised packaging.

“This measure is based on the consistent evidence that stripping cigarette packs of their clever designs and bright colours reduces the appeal of smoking. We encourage other EU governments to do the same and to keep working together to protect people from tobacco harm.”

In a statement, Deborah Arnott, CEO of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) says “The European Parliament s vote today is a victory for public health across the continent.

“The Directive, which will come into effect by 2016, will encourage many existing smokers to quit, and stop many children and young people from starting to smoke in the first place. It also provides for countries that are leaders in tobacco control, particularly the UK, to go further, by introducing standardised ‘plain’ packaging for cigarettes.”

European Parliament.
Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Cancer Research UK.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).
Linda McAvan MEP, website.

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Despite the ban on misleading descriptors such as light or mild cigarettes in Europe, there are still widespread misperceptions of the relative harmfulness of different brands of cigarettes among smokers. This study examined the extent to which smokers in three European countries believed that some cigarette brands are less harmful and why, using data from the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Europe surveys.


Cross sectional analyses were completed among nationally representative samples of 4,956 current smokers (aged 18) from Germany (n 1,515), France (n 1,735) and the United Kingdom (n 1,706) conducted between September 2006 and November 2007. Logistic regression models examined whether outcomes, including beliefs that some cigarettes could be less harmful than others, varied by socio demographic and country of residence. Findings Around a quarter of smokers in the UK and France, and a third in Germany believed some cigarettes are less harmful than others. Overall, of smokers who falsely believed that some cigarettes are less harmful, 86.3% thought that tar/nicotine yields, 48.7% taste, and 40.4% terms on packs such as ‘smooth’ or ‘ultra’ indicated less harmful brands. About a fifth of smokers across all countries chose their brand based on health reasons, and a similar proportion gave tar yields as a reason for choosing brands. Conclusions Our research suggests that the current European Tobacco Products Directive is inadequate in eliminating misperceptions about the relative risk of brand descriptors on cigarettes. There is therefore an urgent need to protect smokers in Europe from these misperceptions via stronger measures such as plain packaging regulations.