20th Oct 2021

EU ministers endorse ban on menthol cigarettes

  • Over 700,000 people in the EU die from smoking every year (Photo: lanier67)

EU ministers of health have reached political agreement to strengthen EU tobacco legislation in an effort to curb the number of smokers.

“I do believe that this is truly an important step because it is about stopping the next generation ever getting hooked,” Irish health minsiter James Reilly, chairing the talks, told reporters on Friday (21 June).

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The ministers endorsed a deal that would ban menthol, fruit, or chocolate flavoured cigarettes.

Other rules include imposing large graphic warnings.

The European Commission had proposed a warning to cover 75 percent of the package but health ministers agreed to 65 percent. Member states are free to implement a larger size.

Similar warnings would also extend to electronic cigarettes, herbal products for smoking, and any tobacco product that enters the market after the directive goes into force.

Labels such as ‘natural’ or ‘organic’ must also be removed.

Reilly described smoking as one of the “greatest, preventable, avoidable threats to people’s health”.

The commission estimates some 700,000 people die from tobacco-related illnesses every year in the EU with many others suffering from chronic illnesses. Costs to the health care systems hover around €25 billion.

“The economic arguments for not intervening can carry no weight…it can never be a choice between jobs and lives,” said Reilly.

Reilly said the design of slim cigarette packages are geared to appeal to young people.

“We have to take every opportunity we can to make sure more people not become enslaved to this product,” he said.

He said more research is also needed to gauge the level of harm caused by electronic cigarettes because they contain nicotine.

“To promote it as a safe alternative, when we can’t say that for certainty, is problematic for me,” he noted.

“I’ll continue fighting until we do reach a stage where we have a tobacco-free Europe,” he said.

The new rules should come into force in three to four years but must first make their way through the European Parliament’s lead committee in July.

Formal negotiations with the parliament will start afterwards.

For his part, EU health commissioner Tonio Borg welcomed the decision, describing the ministerial discussions around the directive as “nail biting”.

The commission has said it wants to reduce the number of smokers by 2.4 million over the next five years.

“I think today we have done a first step, which is not the last step, but an important first step,” he said.

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