European Parliament votes to water down new cigarette rules
* European Parliament votes to weaken proposed tobacco laws
* Parliament rejects proposed ban on slim cigarettes
* Parliament votes to postpone menthol ban for 8 years
* Vote follows intense lobbying from tobacco companies
* Further negotiations to take place with EU member states
By Claire Davenport
BRUSSELS, Oct 8 (Reuters) - The European Parliament voted on Tuesday to water down proposed tobacco legislation, rejecting an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes and scaling down the size of health warnings on packets following intense lobbying by tobacco companies.
European Union member states and the European Commission had proposed some of the world's toughest anti-tobacco laws, including graphic health warnings covering 75 percent of packets, an effort to deter young people from smoking. But the 750-member parliament rejected the proposals as too harsh.
While agreeing to further negotiations, the parliament said it could not accept a ban on slim cigarettes, would only implement a ban on menthol cigarettes in 8 years' time, and said health warnings should only cover 65 percent of packets.
It also said manufacturers should be free to sell smokeless e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine electronically and are a rapidly growing market, as a consumer product when not being marketed as an aide to help people quit smoking.
The vote means compromise negotiations will now take place among the parliament, EU member states and the Commission, with the aim of having the legislation, known as the Tobacco Products Directive, passed before May next year.
"This is a shameful day for the European Parliament," said Carl Schlyter, a member of the Green party from Sweden.
"(The) centre-right majority has done the bidding of the tobacco industry and voted for weaker rules."
Despite being a significant scaling back of the tobacco proposals, the move by parliament was not unexpected.
A senior official from Ireland was among those who warned last week that lobbying efforts by Philip Morris and other companies had intensified and looked likely to succeed in getting the proposals watered down.
"The level of lobbying at the moment exceeds any campaign that has gone on in the parliament in recent years," the official told reporters last week. "This completely on a scale way beyond lobbying that normally goes on."
The centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the largest bloc in the parliament, said the vote was appropriate and that the European Union would still end up with some of the world's strongest tobacco legislation with the proposed law.
"I would have preferred stricter measures, but I welcome the fact that... we managed to avoid inappropriate steps such as a call for the introduction of plain packaging," said Karl-Heinz Florenz, who lead discussions on the proposals for the EPP.
"The new Tobacco Products Directive will be finalised next year despite the intense and tough lobbying of the tobacco industry, which was aimed at delaying and frustrating the decision-making."
One of the main concerns of anti-smoking lawmakers was parliament's position on delaying a ban on menthol cigarettes.
Studies show that flavoured cigarettes are becoming increasingly popular among young smokers and often act as a 'gateway' to other tobacco products.
"It's a facilitator to make young people start smoking, that is why it is crucially important to have this ban," said Schlyter, the Green MEP from Sweden.
Another area of concern is e-cigarettes, which some industry analysts predict will outsell traditional cigarettes by 2023. By making them available only on medicinal grounds, anti-smoking lawmakers had hoped to cut back on their availability.
Internal Philip Morris documents leaked to the media and seen by Reuters show that lobbyists held over 250 meetings with members of parliament to discuss the legislation, especially with members of the EPP and with conservatives from countries where cigarettes are manufactured.
The company said it was logical that it would lobby against a law that directly impacts its business.
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