European Union calls for ban on menthol cigarettes

Europe says fancy cigarettes encourage young people to start smoking

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2012, 4:08am


The European Union executive has called for strongly flavoured cigarettes to be banned, and unveiled legislation imposing graphic images of the risks of smoking on all cigarette packaging.

Reporting that 700,000 people die in Europe every year from smoking-related diseases, the costs of treatment for which run to €25 billion (HK$256 billion) plus a further €8 billion in lost productivity, the European Commission outlined a range of measures aimed at curbing smoking.

"We're not prohibiting smoking; we're making it less attractive for everyone," said Health Ciommissioner Tonio Borg, of Malta. "Sometimes you need shocking pictures to shock people into stopping smoking."

The draft directive, or EU law, unveiled on Wednesday still needs to be endorsed by EU governments and the European parliament, so it could be three years before the measures take effect.

The proposed legislation would ban cigarettes with a "characterising flavour", such as menthol, strawberry or vanilla, on the grounds that they encourage young people to start smoking.

"If it's tobacco, it should look like tobacco and taste like tobacco," Borg said.

And pictorial health warnings, rather than verbal ones, are to become mandatory, covering at least 75 per cent of cigarette packets.

Borg said the commission was not treating "people in a stupid way", nor was it waging "a crusade " against smoking. "Everyone will benefit," he said.

Glenis Wilmott, Labour leader in the European parliament, said: "Cigarette packets should look like they contain a dangerous drug, rather than perfume or lipstick.

"The commission proposal does not go far enough. We need to get rid of all branding from cigarette packets, as it is the only space that the tobacco industry has left to market their products.

"Tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death across the UK, Europe and the world. One in two long-term smokers are killed by tobacco."

The new tobacco directive has been wreathed in controversy since October, when Borg's predecessor as health commissioner, John Dalli, also from Malta, was sacked by the commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, over allegations of sleaze.

The claims involved Swedish tobacco lobbyists who were said to be seeking the lifting of an EU ban on snus, a type of orally administered, smoke-free tobacco.

Dalli has denied all accusations of wrongdoing, and is taking legal action.

Under the new anti-smoking moves disclosed, snus remains outlawed in the EU except, as previously, in Sweden.

The new measures directed at cigarette smoking were not extended to cigars and pipe tobacco.