European politicians back laws to put off young smokers

In collaboration with the Press Association

European MPs are backing a law aimed at putting young people off smoking by making the habit less attractive.

Members of the European Parliament's ENVI Committee backed the draft law, which proposes to ban using flavours such as menthol or strawberry in tobacco products.

The MEPs also strengthened the draft by amending it to ban slim cigarettes, "attractive" packaging and require pictorial health warnings on both sides of the packaging. The move has been welcomed by anti-smoking campaigners.

Linda McAvan MEP, who represents Yorkshire and the Humber, is steering the legislation through the European Parliament. She said the aim was to stop the tobacco industry recruiting new smokers from among the young.

She said although smoking was on a downward trend there was a "worrying drift" towards tobacco among young people, 29 per cent of whom smoked.

If adopted, the updated Tobacco Product Directive would ban the use of additives and flavours that make a product more attractive. Using vitamins, caffeine and taurine, which is regularly used in energy drinks, would also be prohibited.

"Slim" cigarettes, packets containing less than 20 and so-called "lipstick packs" would be banned. And member states would have to ensure e-cigarettes are not just available at pharmacies "given their potential to aid with smoking cessation".

MEPs want the law to ensure that packaging does not resemble food or cosmetic packs. There could be no suggestion that the tobacco product has positive health or lifestyle benefits or is any less harmful than another one.

Their amendments would also see all cigarette, roll-your-own tobacco and water pipe tobacco packaging having to show health warnings on all sides and be bigger.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of anti-smoking group ASH branded the draft law "wonderful news". She said it was pleasing that MEPs had "ignored the lobbying tactics of the tobacco industry and put health before industry profits".

Alison Cox, Cancer Research UK's expert on tobacco control, said, "Nearly 50 per cent of smokers will die from a smoking related disease and tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable premature deaths across Europe. This vote reflects a commitment by the European Parliament to address these staggering statistics."

She said Cancer Research UK "wholeheartedly backs" the move to remove flavouring from cigarettes and that making them taste like mint, chocolate or cherry is designed to improve the taste of smoking and make it easier to inhale the toxic and carcinogenic tobacco fumes, particularly for young people just starting to smoke.

She said the charity also welcomes the decision on prominent picture health warnings on the front and back of packs and they are proven to reduce the allure of tobacco marketing on packs, and help increase quit rates.

"The ban on slim cigarettes and 'lipstick style' packs addresses some of the marketing techniques the tobacco industry has used to create a 'personality' of smoking with which young people have been targeted".

The news comes as Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced that the Government has shelved separate plans to introduce standardised tobacco packaging in England, a decision met with disappointment by health charities.

"Europe has left the door wide open for nations to go further and introduce standardised packaging - this needs to happen urgently so that more unnecessary deaths can be avoided, " she added.

Copyright Press Association 2013