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European Union: More Stringent Rules on Cigarettes Proposed

(July 23, 2013) On July 10, 2013, the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment and Public Health endorsed new, stricter rules on cigarette distribution and marketing previously put forward by the European Commission. The new proposed directive is designed to make smoking less attractive to youth by prohibiting the use of “characterized” flavors, such as strawberry or menthol, in tobacco products. In addition, it bans the use of caffeine and vitamins, although it allows the addition of sugar. (Public Health Committee MEPs Toughen Up Plans to Deter Young People from Smoking, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT/NEWS (July 10, 2013).)

The Committee proposed two significant amendments to the draft directive:

(a) a requirement that health warnings cover 75% of both sides of a cigarette pack; and

(b) a prohibition of slim cigarettes of a diameter of less than 7.5mm, and of “lipstick packs,” the pretty packaging in which such cigarettes are marketed. (Id.)

With regard to the labeling or packaging of any tobacco product, the draft directive provides that the labeling must not give the impression to consumers that a particular tobacco product is less harmful than others and the package must not look like a food item or a cosmetic product. (Id.)

The draft directive also addresses e-cigarettes, and provides that they may only be placed on the market under the existing rules on medicinal products. However, because e-cigarettes may aid consumers to cease smoking, the proposed directive allows European Union (EU) Members to make them available in establishments other than pharmacies. (Id.)

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an EU consultative body, in its opinion adopted on July 11, 2013, argued that the Commission’s proposal as amended by the Committee’s new rules may have a negative impact on the tobacco industry and related employment opportunities. The opinion notes that the tobacco industry is an important economic sector, especially in rural areas, of several EU Member States, with approximately 1.5 million people employed in it. (EU Tobacco Review: Striking the Right Balance Between Economy, Health and Jobs, EESC website (July 11, 2013).)

The EESC specifically objected to the draft directive’s provision that 75% of both sides of a cigarette package be covered with a health warning, citing a lack of definitive scientific evidence to justify such a measure. Moreover, it opined that the change in the packaging will endanger jobs in the packaging sector, which is also an important economic sector in several Member States. (Id.)

The EESC further argued that the draft directive may have an adverse impact on the legitimate intellectual and industrial rights of manufacturers to use their trademarks. Nevertheless, the EESC, acknowledging that smoking is a serious public health hazard, agreed with the Commission that the health and safety of consumers should take priority over economic considerations, and stressed the importance of educational programs on the dangers of smoking for children and young adults. (Id.)