The European Parliament voted yesterday to ban menthol cigarettes from 2022 but rejected a proposal to regulate electronic cigarettes as medicine.
Its bid to water down proposed tobacco legislation also included scaling down the size of health warnings on packets following intense lobbying by tobacco companies.
European Union member states and the European Commission had proposed some of the world's toughest anti-tobacco laws, including graphic health warnings covering 75 per cent of packets, an effort to deter young people from smoking. But the 750-member parliament rejected the proposals as too harsh.
While agreeing to further negotiations, the parliament said it could not accept a ban on slim cigarettes, would only implement a ban on menthol cigarettes in eight years' time rather than three years agreed by EU governments, and said health warnings should only cover 65 percent of packets.
Legislators also put new limits on advertising for electronic cigarettes, but stopped short of restricting them to therapeutic use only. The proposed new rules 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.
The vote means compromise negotiations will now take place among the parliament, EU member states and the Commission, with the aim of having the legislation, known as the Tobacco Products Directive, passed before May next year.
"This is a shameful day for the European Parliament," said Carl Schlyter, a member of the Green party from Sweden. "[The] centre-right majority has done the bidding of the tobacco industry and voted for weaker rules."
The centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the largest bloc in the parliament, said the vote was appropriate and that the European Union would still end up with some of the world's strongest tobacco legislation with the proposed law.
"I would have preferred stricter measures, but I welcome the fact that … we managed to avoid inappropriate steps such as a call for the introduction of plain packaging," said Karl-Heinz Florenz, who led discussions on the proposals for the EPP.
One of the main concerns of anti-smoking lawmakers was parliament's position on delaying a ban on menthol cigarettes.
Studies show that flavoured cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular among young smokers and often act as a "gateway" to other tobacco products.
Internal Philip Morris documents leaked to the media show that lobbyists held more than 250 meetings with members of parliament to discuss the legislation, especially EPP members.
The company said it was logical that it would lobby against a law that directly impacted its business.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg