FOCUS-EU Commission seeks tougher tobacco laws
STRASBOURG, France, Nov 16 (Reuters) - The European Union's executive body proposed new laws on Tuesday to tighten limits on tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarettes and require stark new health warnings on cigarette packs.
``Smoking kills half a million citizens in the EU every year,'' EU Health Commissioner David Byrne told the European Parliament.
``It's the single biggest preventable cause of death. If adopted, these proposals would provide the highest level of protection against tobacco-related diseases in the developed world,'' he added.
The proposed EU law would reduce the maximum tar level of cigarettes from 12 mg to 10 mg per cigarette. It would for the first time set an EU-wide ceiling of one mg of nicotine per cigarette and of 10 mg of carbon monoxide per cigarette.
Cigarette packets would have to carry frank warnings in black on a white background surrounded by a black margin saying ``Smoking kills.''
Additional health warnings would be revised to take account of the latest scientific advice, with warnings ranging from ``Smokers die younger'' to ``Smoking causes cancer.''
The proposed law would force cigarette makers to declare non-tobacco ingredients, including additives, in their products.
To limit what the Commission called misleading descriptions of some tobacco products, EU member states would be asked to authorise and regulate terms such as ``light'' and ``mild.''
LENGTHY DECISION-MAKING PROCESS
The plans, adopted by the EU's executive Commission meeting in Strasbourg, France, still needs approval from EU governments and the European Parliament, which could take up to two years.
Byrne said there was evidence that increasing numbers of young people, especially young women, were taking up smoking.
He told a news briefing the new proposals would complement a 1998 EU law phasing out tobacco advertising from 2001, undermining industry efforts to recruit new smokers.
Tobacco companies are challenging the ban in the courts, but Byrne said it would have been inappropriate to wait for the outcome of the litigation before taking these new steps.
He said the measures were proportionate, adding: ``We have been careful not to stigmatise smokers and not to interfere in citizens' everyday lives.''
A European cigarette industry body said it was prepared to enter a ``constructive dialogue'' over the proposed law.
``The proposal addresses a number of serious and complex issues with far-reaching consequences for the manufacturing and sales of tobacco products,'' Wilfried Dembach, chairman of the Confederation of European Community Cigarette Manufacturers, said in a statement.
Philip Morris Cos Inc, maker of Marlboro, said in a statement it welcomed the opportunity for dialogue on the issues addressed by the proposal.
``We think it entirely appropriate that authorities should be examining reasonable measures to ensure that adults who choose to smoke are fully informed,'' said David Davies, Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Philip Morris Europe.
``At the same time, Philip Morris is committed to addressing the issue of under-age smoking,'' he said.