The European Parliament gave its final approval Tuesday to stringent legislation on tobacco marketing that will allow pictures of diseased lungs and hearts to be put on European cigarette packs.
The new law will also ban from September 2003 the use of descriptive terms such as “light” and “mild,” putting an end to well-known brands such as “Marlboro Lights,” made by tobacco giant Phillip Morris.
“After decades of deception and misinformation from the tobacco industry, the message about the true costs of smoking will finally start to hit home,” said Euro MP Catherine Stihler, health spokeswoman for the British Labour Party.
Under the rules approved by the 626-seat European Union assembly, all cigarette packets sold in the EU after September next year will have health warnings covering at least 30% of the front and 40% of the back.
Current EU rules state such warnings must cover 4% of packets.
Tobacco companies will also be required to disclose exactly what they put in their cigarettes, including potentially harmful additives, which governments can then publish.
The law will also limit some of the harmful constituents in tobacco. From January 2004, cigarettes will have a maximum of 10 milligrams of tar per cigarette, one milligram of nicotine and 10 milligrammes of carbon monoxide.
The tobacco industry has reacted with dismay to the new rules.
John Carlisle, of Britain’s Tobacco Manufacture’s Association, said the ban on the manufacture of cigarettes with more than 10 milligrams of tar will have a devastating impact on European exports to Asia, Australia and Africa, where consumers want stronger cigarettes. The current maximum on cigarettes sold in the EU is 12 milligrams of tar.
He said 8,000 jobs in the EU will be at risk.
Carlisle also dismissed the proposed use of photographs in health warnings.
“We think this is just a gimmick,” he said. “This kind of graphic description should not have a role in a sophisticated society. It’s a rather tasteless, worthless exercise.”
Japanese cigarette maker JT International questioned the legality of some the measures.
It said in a statement that the effect of the legislation would be to prevent it from marketing its “Mild Seven” brand, a registered trademark.
“To defend our property rights and the interests of our shareholders, JTI is obliged to consider all possible legal remedies,” the company said.
The vote was warmly welcomed by the EU’s top public health official.
“The EU is firmly committed to reduce the death toll from smoking and I am convinced that today’s legislation will help to achieve this objective,” said EU Health Commissioner David Byrne.
“These are badly needed state-of-the-art rules based on solid science.”
Other EU tobacco restrictions are in the pipeline â€” including a proposed minimum tax on cigarettes and a new attempt to severely restrict tobacco advertising â€” which Byrne says will help achieve his aim of reducing the number of smokers from a one-in-three to one-in-five of the EU population.
A previous ban on advertising tobacco products on billboards, in movie theaters and items such parasols, and ashtrays in restaurants was overturned last October by the EU’s supreme court after an appeal by tobacco and advertising companies backed by the German government.