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EU backs more stringent tobacco laws

Wednesday, February 26 16:52:14

EU politicians voted for a new anti-tobacco law today that forces cigarette makers to increase the size of health warnings on packets and for the first time regulates electronic cigarettes.

The vote was welcomed by Health Minister Dr James Reilly.

"The passing of this Directive at EU level and Ireland's proposed standardised packaging legislation will help reduce the number of children and young people who start smoking," the Minister said.

In addition, the Directive will put in place an EU-wide tracking and tracing system to combat illicit trade of tobacco products - the first of its kind in the EU.

Campaigners say the vote marked a turning point for public health, but that intensive industry lobbying had reduced the impact of a law designed to tackle an estimated 700,000 tobacco-related deaths in Europe every year.

Following Wednesday's plenary vote at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, ministers from EU member states are expected to give the law final endorsement next month, although it will only start taking effect from 2016.

Cigarettes and other products will have to carry graphic picture and text warnings covering 65 percent of the front and back of packets.

Countries contemplating bans on all cigarette branding, such as Britain and Ireland, will be able to introduce plain packaging if they wish.

The rules also include a ban on smoking tobacco products containing flavors such as fruit or vanilla. Menthol cigarettes will be banned from 2020, after some governments demanded a slower phase-out.

"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," European Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said in a statement.

EU diplomats had endorsed the deal in December after striking an agreement on how tightly to regulate the market for e-cigarettes, which some analysts say could eclipse the $700 billion-a-year market for ordinary cigarettes in 10 years.