* Commission proposes larger health warnings on packs
* Plans include ban on menthol and slim cigarettes
* Tobacco industry expected to fight proposals
* Talks to finalise rules could last two years
By Charlie Dunmore
BRUSSELS, Dec 19 The European Union proposed
drastic restrictions on tobacco branding on Wednesday, saying
cigarette packs should reflect the deadly threat posed by
If approved by EU member states and the European Parliament,
the law will mean graphic visual and written warnings take up 75
percent of the surface of all cigarette packets, leaving 25
percent or less for the brand.
The European Commission proposed the bill after two years of
discussion, a period marked by heavy industry lobbying, the
resignation of an EU health commissioner amid cash-for-influence
allegations and a break-in at the offices of anti-smoking groups
"The figures speak for themselves: tobacco kills half of its
users and is highly addictive," Health Commissioner Tonio Borg,
said in a statement setting out the plans which would also ban
slim cigarettes and flavourings such as menthol.
"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," Borg said.
Current EU legislation says health warnings on the front of
packs must cover at least 30 percent.
While the proposals stop short of the completely plain
packaging imposed in Australia earlier this month, EU
governments will be free to ban all branding if justified on
public health grounds. Britain and France are among the
countries considering the idea.
Companies such as Imperial Tobacco and Philip Morris
fear that tougher EU restrictions will set a precedent
for similar moves in growth markets such as Asia and Africa.
Shares in British American Tobacco have fallen by
more than 3 percent since details of the proposals emerged on
The industry's bid to weaken the plans is expected to
intensify as EU governments and lawmakers begin the process of
finalising the rules, which could take up to two years and might
end with an even tougher final version.
Morgan Stanley said in a research it did not expect the
rules to have a material impact on industry volumes or
"We take some relief that the (worst) case - mandatory plain
packaging - wasn't proposed," it said.
Borg's predecessor as EU health commissioner, fellow Maltese
John Dalli, resigned in October following a complaint by snuff
producer Swedish Match over an alleged bribery attempt
by one of his associates.
Dalli denies the conclusion of an EU investigation that he
was aware of a request for 60 million euros ($79 million) in
return for proposing to overturn an EU sales ban on Swedish
Match's main product, a moist oral snuff known as "snus".
"The complaint was designed to try to push the directive to
one side, and maybe to have somebody else in charge who would be
more lenient on them," Dalli told Reuters by telephone.
"But the proposal contains all the relevant policy issues
that I was pushing for, including giving member states the
possibility to go beyond the requirements in the directive."
Barely 24 hours after Dalli's resignation, there was a
break-in at the offices of several anti-tobacco campaign groups
who share a building in the EU district of Brussels.
The head of one of the groups, Monika Kosinska of the
European Public Health Alliance, said building security
officials found evidence that thieves had entered the building
via a fifth floor balcony having abseiled down from the roof.
After disabling security motion sensors, the intruders stole
laptops belonging to campaigners working on the EU tobacco
directive and tried to delete files from a computer server in
the office, Kosinska said. Police have not identified any
"We're hopeful that we can still get the mandatory
introduction of plain packaging across the European Union,
despite the fierce lobbying that awaits from the tobacco
industry," said Kosinska.
A total of 576 billion cigarettes were sold in the EU last
year, a fall of more than 100 billion since 2007, consultants
KPMG said in a report for Philip Morris in June.
Despite the trend, Europe still has the highest proportion
of smokers of any region of the globe at about 33 percent,
according to data from the World Health Organization.