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26th Jan 2020

EU lawmakers agree tobacco bill

  • E-cigarettes are a rapidly expanding market (Photo: lindsay-fox)

EU lawmakers reached an agreement on the new tobacco products bill after negotiators clashed on electronic cigarettes earlier in the week.

“It’s a happy day for anybody who wants to fight the use of tobacco,” EU commissioner for health Tonio Borg told reporters in Brussels on Wednesday (18 December).

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The inter-institutional agreement means future health warning pictures are to cover 65 percent of cigarette packs and must appear on the top half of the pack. Packs with fewer than 20 cigarettes will be banned.

A ban on "characterising flavours,” such as vanilla, is to be upheld and will be extended to menthol in 2020.

Member states and the European Parliament had collided late Monday on how to best regulate e-cigarettes, a rapidly expanding industry said to be worth around €2 billion in the EU.

The talks stalled as EU diplomats on Tuesday refused to issue any official position while they ran over technical details to suss out safety concerns on the device.

Member states scaled back some of their initial demands, such as banning the sale of refillable cartridges, which currently account for much of the EU market.

They wanted a single-use e-cigarette, meaning the smoker would have to purchase a new one when the first one is empty.

Wednesday’s agreement means refillable cartridges for e-cigarettes would be allowed. But the commission could impose a blanket EU ban if at least three member states ban the refillables altogether.

The maximum permitted nicotine concentration level in the cartridge is set at 20 mg/ml, which is the equivalent to around a packet of normal cigarettes.

MEPs, for their part, were keen to keep the refillable model and say the safeguards are not justified on health grounds.

E-cigarettes will not be classified as medical products by the EU, but individual member states will be free to grant them the status if they want.

“Every member state can adopt more restrictive measures than those in the directive,” said Borg.

The co-legislators are set to vote on the bill next year before its adoption.

Amid the EU debate, industry giants, such as Philip Morris International, which owns the Marlboro brand, are looking for a big bang on e-smoking in 2014.

The firm recently said it will spend $100 million in research on “reduced-risk" products in 2014.

Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter, a vice chair on the EU parliament's health committee, told this website that Big Tobacco is not worried about the details of the EU rules.

“Whatever happens, it [e-smoking] will be profitable,” he said.

The bill was originally drafted by John Dalli, a Maltese politician who used to be the European Commission's health chief, but who left his job in 2012 in a lobbying scandal.

Dalli’s controversial dismissal led to allegations of insider moves to weaken the bill and undue influence of former commission officials working for tobacco-related law firms.

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