The European Union on Wednesday approved drastic change in smoking regulations. The legislation which is expected to pass next month hopes to decrease the number of smokers in the Union by 2.4 million.
Many individuals and groups, including cancer charities, have shown wide-spread support for the legislation. The E.U. estimates 700,000 premature deaths, annually, are linked to smoking. Numerous revisions are expected to be implemented in all states by 2016.
First, the packaging of all cigarettes are to have 65 percent of the back and front covered with health warnings. The top of the packs must also have warnings, some of which depict graphic images of black lung and other smoking related diseases. “Roll your own” packages are required to have warnings as well. Additionally, all packing aimed towards women is to be banned.
Tobacco companies will be unable to use “promotional elements,” such as advertisements saying “all natural.” Any statement claiming a brand less harmful than another will also be disallowed.
Once implemented, the legislation will make flavors in tobacco illegal, such as menthol or fruit. The E.U. also plans to enact a closer tracking system for cigarette sales, in order to avoid illegal trade.
The legislation also called for change in the electronic cigarette industry, limiting the amount of tobacco to 20 milligrams per milliliter, the standard for real cigarettes. The e-cigarette packaging must also carry warning labels and be childproof.
The European Commission hopes the changes will “deter young people from…becoming addicted to tobacco” and are looking for a 2 percent drop in smokers over a five year course. E.U. Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said the legislation proved “a great day for the… health policy. [The] measures put an end to products which entice [young people] into starting to smoke,” she added. While the drastic changes to smoking regulations in the E.U. have been well received, some critics have arose.
Pro-smoking groups have a problem with a number of the regulations in the legislation. The director of the pro-smoking campaign group Forest, Simon Clark, called the ban of flavored cigarettes a violation of market choice. Clark also criticized the proposal for “plain packaging,” or removal of all branding from the product case.
“If health warnings are going to be even more prominent,” he asked,”…why…do we need plain packaging? At the…least the government should…see what impact the larger warnings have before introducing standardized packs.” The commission responded that the action was justified as it was a matter of public health.
Still, the legislation is considered a victory for many health and governmental groups. British Labour Party member Linda McAvan said “the new law is…a huge step forward in tobacco control.” Alison Cox, Britain’s head of tobacco policy, said the “directive sets standards on tobacco [that] will bring…benefits for people’s health…across Europe.”
The vote, which took place in Strasbourg France, was exceedingly in favor of all the regulations, with a margin of 500-63 and only 60 abstentions. Implementation of the drastic change to smoking regulations is another step in the direction of a smoke-free European Union.
By Erin P. Friar