EU Backs Bigger Tobacco Warnings
STRASBOURG, France (AP) - The European Parliament endorsed anti-smoking measures Wednesday that require tobacco makers to print health warnings covering almost half of a pack of cigarettes and cut the amount of tar and nicotine.
However, the EU assembly rejected a call for cigarette packs to show photos of smoke-stained teeth, scarred lungs or young children imitating smoking adults.
The 626-member assembly voted for health warnings to cover 35 percent of the front and 45 percent of the back of cigarette packages- up from a 4 percent requirement now. The new warnings would cover up to 47 percent and 50 percent of the packs in countries with two and three languages, respectively.
The legislation - to take effect Jan. 1, 2003 - now goes to the health ministers of the 15 European Union nations who are expected to give it their blessing on June 29.
Wilfried Dembach, a spokesman for the European Community Cigarette Manufacturers, a Brussels-based trade group, called that ``disproportionate'' saying what counted for consumers was the information in the warning, not the size of the advisory.
The assembly's vote went well beyond what the EU executive Commission had proposed in the first place.
The Commission sought to limit health warnings to 30 percent of the packaging. The tobacco industry had been lobbying for a maximum of 10 percent.
The European Parliament also cut the maximum amount of tar per cigarette to 10 milligrams from 12 mg, and cut both the maximum amount of nicotine to 1 mg and the amount of carbon monoxide to 10 mg.
Additionally, it added a new requirement: cigarette makers can no longer distinguish between ``low tar,'' ``mild'' or ``light'' cigarettes.
EU Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne welcomed the parliament's vote. ``I am greatly encouraged (by its) strong support for the Commission proposal for a directive on tobacco products,'' he said after the vote.
The defeat of the amendment to put pictures of rotting teeth and smoke-ravaged lungs on a pack of cigarettes disappointed some members of the EU assembly.
British labour member Catherine Stihler said, ``A picture paints a thousand words. And using these pictures would have saved thousands of lives.''
John Bowis, a British conservative, welcomed removal of low-tar descriptions saying terms as ``light,'' ``mild'' and ``low-tar'' were ``dangerous and misleading. It is dangerous because people inhale mild cigarettes more deeply and misleading because it gives the impression that it is somehow safer.''
The rules adopted Wednesday are part of a larger package of anti-smoking measures designed to prevent EU nationals from lighting up. The EU estimates 500,000 EU nationals die prematurely every year from tobacco-related diseases.
Meanwhile, a British parliamentary committee urged that tougher health warnings be required on cigarette packs, including messages that smoking can make men less potent.
The House of Commons health committee said the messages ``should be harder-hitting and more relevant to consumers than those currently used.''
The Tobacco Manufacturers' Association criticized the report as confrontational and said the government should ``talk constructively'' to the industry.