EU Parliament OKs Cigarette Warnings
BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) - The European Parliament on Wednesday approved a measure that, if enacted, will force tobacco makers to devote a significant portion of cigarette packaging to graphic health warnings beginning in 2003.
Other possible changes include a forced reduction in the amount of tar and nicotine in cigarettes sold within the EU and the posting of health warnings on vending machines.
The EU health ministers are to meet in special session here Thursday to debate the issue, though it's unclear if a vote will be taken. If they endorse it, the measure becomes law across the 15 EU states.
Jules Maaten, the Dutch Liberal who authored the legislation, was delighted by the decision and said it showed momentum was picking up worldwide to curb cigarette sales.
``It is the trend in Europe and elsewhere,'' he said right after the measure was adopted by an overwhelming majority in an untallied vote. ``Industry will not be happy with what we said ... but I do not foresee major problems'' in the EU enacting the bill, Maaten said.
The EU head office estimates 500,000 Europeans die of tobacco-related ailments every year.
The EU assembly, meeting in Strasbourg, France, voted for health warnings to cover 30 percent of the front and 40 percent of the back of cigarette packages - up from 4 percent now. This would go to 45 percent in countries with two languages, such as Finland, and 50 percent in Belgium and Luxembourg, where there are three official languages.
The new rules would also force cigarette makers to put graphic warnings on their products, such as pictures of a diseased mouth, a cancerous lung or a brain damaged by a stroke.
This approach follows the lead taken by Canada where graphic warnings go into effect next week.
The 626-member European Parliament voted for the bill after weighing 50 amendments, ranging from scrapping the proposed law altogether to make it even more severe.
The bill also called for health warnings to be posted on tobacco vending machines. It offers three choices for the sort of warnings to be put on cigarette packages: ``Smoking kills half a million people each year in the European Union (news - web sites),'' ``Passive smoking harms those around you, especially children,'' or simply - albeit in much bigger letters - ``Smoking kills.''
The industry spent months lobbying EU assembly members trying to water down the proposals, but to no avail. Tobacco manufacturers say the bill threatens 8,000 jobs and warn the production of cigarettes would have to be moved to countries outside the EU.
``We support fair and sensible regulation, however the draft directive is seriously flawed and may be challenged in the courts,'' said Michael Prideaux, corporate affairs director from British American Tobacco, makers of Benson and Hedges and Lucky Strike brands. Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company, best known for its Marlboro brand said it was still premature to consider legal action, adding it could agree with some parts of the bill but not with others.
``It will result in the export from the EU of jobs and revenues,'' said David Davies, vice president corporate affairs for Philip Morris Europe.
The EU bill would also:
- force tobacco makers to cut tar and nicotine in cigarettes sold within the EU as well as for export. The maximum amount of tar would be 10 milligrams per cigarette, down from 12 mg, and the maximum amount of nicotine and carbon monoxide could not exceed 1 mg and 10 mg respectively.
- prohibit cigarette makers from distinguishing between ``low tar,'' ``mild'' or ``light'' cigarettes.
- ban cigarette exports from the EU to countries that do not have tar and nicotine limits of their own.