Strasbourg, France October 8- European lawmakers Tuesday approved a long fought and divisive anti smoking bill aimed at making cigarettes less attractive to youngsters but threw out a bid to curb sales of increasingly popular e-cigarettes.
The European Parliament refused to classify electronic cigarettes as medicinal products, which would have restricted their sale to pharmacies.
E-cigarettes, which are booming worldwide, will therefore continue to be available in tobacco shops or specialist stores, but will be banned for sale to minors and no advertising will be allowed.The law, which still must win approval from the 28 European Union states, will force tobacco firms to print large health warnings covering 65 percent of the packaging, with the name of the brand printed at the bottom.
That was less than the 75 percent originally proposed by the European Commission.
Flavoured cigarettes popular with youngsters will be banned in line with the proposal.
But in a considerable watering down of the proposals, “slims” will remain on the market and menthol cigarettes will only be banned eight years after the law comes into effect.
The aim of the new legislation is to cut the number of smokers across the 500 million bloc “by two percent in the next five years,” the EU’s Health Commissioner Toni Borg said as he urged MEPs to be “daring” and support the plan.
But these first anti smoking measures in more than a decade, which specifically aim to discourage young smokers, unleashed a tough lobbying campaign from the tobacco industry.
MEPs say Philip Morris alone invested 1.4 million euros ($1.9 million) to convince the parliament to scrap parts of the proposal and 176 amendments to the European Commission’s proposal were tabled.
Last Friday, health ministers from 16 of the 28 European Union states issued an appeal for a swift adoption of the law. It was supposed to go before parliament in September but was delayed on the request of the conservative, liberal and euro-sceptic groups.
The legislation will not come into effect before 2017.
The proposed new rules on labelling, ingredients and smokeless products also fell short of demands by some health campaigners for a total ban on company branding and logos on packets, along the lines of measures enforced in Australia.
Borg said on introducing the proposals that with 70 percent of smokers starting before the age of 18, the ambition was “to make tobacco products and smoking less attractive and thus discourage tobacco initiation among young people.”
Almost 700,000 Europeans die from tobacco related illnesses each year equal to the population of Frankfurt or Palermo with associated health costs running at more than 25 billion euros.