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MEPs tighten anti-tobacco laws aimed at young smokers

Euro MPs have voted to tighten tobacco regulations aimed at putting young people off smoking, but some measures do not go as far as originally planned.

They rejected a European Commission proposal to treat electronic cigarettes as medicinal products – a move that would have restricted sales.

They backed a ban on menthol cigarettes – but with a five-year delay. The same goes for other cigarette flavourings.

Slim cigarettes will not be banned. EU ministers must now consider the plans.

Among other measures, MEPs voted on Tuesday to put health warnings on 65% of each cigarette pack, as opposed to the proposed 75%.

The current requirement for health warnings is for 30% minimum coverage on one side and 40% on the other.

It was the European Parliament’s first reading of a draft tobacco directive which could become law in 2014. There has been intense lobbying of MEPs by the tobacco industry and health campaigners.

Conservative and Liberal MEPs welcomed the amendments made to the original proposal from UK Labour MEP Linda McAvan.

There will now be further negotiations with the Council – the grouping of relevant EU ministers. MEPs may manage to avoid a second vote and fast-track the legislation so that it is adopted before the May 2014 European elections.

The proposals also include a ban on words like “light”, “mild” and “low tar”, deemed to be misleading, and a ban on chewing tobacco – called snus – although Sweden would retain its exemption.

EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg called the vote “positive”. “I am confident that the revised Directive on Tobacco Products can still be adopted within the mandate of the current Parliament,” he said.

But Carl Schlyter, health spokesman for the Greens, called it “a shameful day for the European Parliament, as a centre-right majority, led by the EPP group, has done the bidding of the tobacco industry and voted for weaker rules”.

Once agreed, all 28 EU countries will have to make the measures law.

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