Europe comes down hard on smokers

By Bruno Waterfield in Brussels

The ban on packets of 10 would affect two million British smokers. Photo / Thinkstock
The ban on packets of 10 would affect two million British smokers. Photo / Thinkstock

The sale of cigarettes in packets of 10 is expected to be banned by 2016 after MEPs voted for tighter restrictions on tobacco use throughout Europe.

Electronic cigarette substitutes, which are increasingly popular as a less harmful alternative to smoking, will be subjected to the same limitations on advertising as ordinary tobacco products.

Linda McAvan, the British Labour MEP who drafted the legislation aimed at reducing smoking among women and young people, said the rules would protect "children from being targeted by tobacco companies" via the lure of attractive branding, small female-friendly packs and flavoured cigarettes. "Four thousand British children start smoking each week - that's a staggering 200,000 new childhood smokers a year," she said.

The rules must be agreed by ministers and voted on again by the European Parliament before they become law throughout the European Union, but this is not expected to pose an obstacle.

The ban on packets of 10 would affect two million British smokers because the small packs - targeted by the EU because they are thought to be favoured by the young - account for 38 per cent of cigarettes sold in the UK.

It came under immediate fire from the smokers' group Forest. Its campaigns manager, Angela Harbutt, said that buying smaller packets was "an economic necessity" for some. "It is a mean-spirited measure that punishes those on low incomes," she said.

Apart from Britain, Italy is the only other EU country that does not already require cigarettes to be sold in packets of 19 or 20. The ban will also have an impact on smokers of hand-rolled tobacco. Many British roll-up smokers buy their leaf tobacco in 12.5g packets which will be banned by the EU, with a new minimum sales weight of 20g.

MEPs also voted to ban menthol cigarettes by 2022, a decision that delayed by five years a European Commission proposal that would have prohibited mint, fruit or sweet flavoured tobacco by the end of 2016.

The menthol ban will eventually wipe out annual British cigarette sales worth up to 650 million ($1.26 billion), imposing losses of over 6 billion a year on the tobacco industry, which has warned that the measure will lead to more smuggling.

Drago Azinovic, the EU region head of tobacco company Philip Morris International, warned: "MEPs have voted to ban an entire segment of the legal market, despite the inevitable increase in illegal trade that this will fuel."

Under the new rules, graphic health warnings, including colour photographs of tumours, must cover 65 per cent of tobacco packaging, relegating the brand names to the bottom of packets.

As well as taking a significant step towards plain packaging, the use of words such as "light", "mild" and "low tar" to describe cigarettes and other tobacco products will be prohibited.

In a setback for public health campaigners, the commission, most national Governments, including Britain and the pharmaceutical industry, and most MEPs rejected a ban on longer, narrower "slim" cigarettes, or for the sale of electronic cigarettes to be restricted by classing them as medicines.

The popularity of e-cigarettes has increased dramatically, with sales rising from 2.5 million in 2011 to 23.9 million last year.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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