Plans for a new Europe-wide crackdown on smoking include a ban on menthol and larger written and picture warnings covering three-quarters of each cigarette packet.
The moves reinforce an existing Tobacco Products Directive and were hailed by EU Health and Consumer Commissioner Toni Borg as a new drive to make smoking less attractive.
Negotiations over the controversial plans have taken place with the tobacco industry and health campaigners for years, and they target the use in cigarettes, roll-ups and “smokeless tobacco products” of menthol, vanilla and strawberry.
Such “characterising flavours” will be banned under the new legislation, if approved by Euro MPs and EU health ministers.
Current pictorial health warnings will more than double in size and the rules will extend to products not specifically covered so far, such as “electronic” cigarettes and herbal smoking products.
Chewing and nasal tobacco will have to have specific labelling and controls on ingredients. An existing ban on “snus” – chewing tobacco – remains.
Mr Borg said yesterday: “The figures speak for themselves: tobacco kills half of its users and is highly addictive.
“With 70 per cent of the smokers starting before the age of 18, the ambition of today’s proposal is to make tobacco products and smoking less attractive and thus discourage tobacco initiation among young people”.
He added: “Consumers must not be cheated: tobacco products should look and taste like tobacco products and this proposal ensures that attractive packaging and flavourings are not used as a marketing strategy.”
Current rules are now more than a decade old and outdated, says the Commission. Significant changes have taken place in the sector, with new scientific evidence on the impact of flavourings used in tobacco, and clearer statistics about the effectiveness of health warnings.
Novel products such as electronic cigarettes have joined the sector, and Brussels is concerned about the continued use of what it calls “attractive” packaging and flavours.
The new proposed labelling rules would require a combined picture and text health warning covering 75 per cent of the front and the back of cigarette packs. Current information on tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide – now considered misleading – would be replaced by a warning on the side of each pack noting that tobacco smoke contains more than 70 cancer-causing substances.
The newly-developed electronic cigarettes, used by many smokers as a healthier alternative, would have to carry health warnings, as they contain nicotine.
If the nicotine content is above a certain threshold they would not be allowed unless authorised by a doctor as medicine, like nicotine replacement therapies.
Even herbal cigarettes would have to carry health warnings.
The plans will now be considered by the European Parliament and EU health ministers, with a target of adopting the new laws during 2014 and bringing them into force in 2015-16.
Labour leader in the European Parliament Glenis Willmott welcomed the long-awaited plan, saying: “The delays and controversies around this legislation have been unacceptable. It is time we took some bold steps towards solving this public health crisis.”
But she said the Commission plan did not go far enough.
“Alongside introducing large pictorial warnings we need to get rid of all branding from cigarette packets, as it is the only space that the tobacco industry has left to market their products.
“Looking at current brands, it is clear that many are specifically targeted towards young people, and long, thin, flowery packet designs in light pink and purple are clearly aimed at young women in particular. Such a deadly and addictive product should only be sold in standardised, unattractive packets with large health warnings.”