* MEP wants Europe to follow Australian tobacco logo ban
* Firms question impact on smoking, see fraud risk
* Proposal prompts renewed lobbying push by industry
By Claire Davenport and Charlie Dunmore
BRUSSELS, April 19 An influential EU lawmaker
has proposed strengthening draft European anti-tobacco rules by
banning all distinguishing branding from cigarette and tobacco
packets, following the example set by Australia.
The tobacco industry has begun lobbying against the idea,
and if a ban won backing from EU governments and the European
Parliament, it could face a legal challenge from companies such
as Philip Morris and Imperial Tobacco.
"The idea is to take the advertising off the packages,"
Linda McAvan, the British Labour politician leading talks on the
tobacco proposals in the European Parliament, told Reuters in a
"It is aimed at stopping a new generation of smokers from
being recruited, and I think most fair-minded people would
probably agree that is a good idea," she said.
The European Commission proposed in December tough new
restrictions on tobacco branding to reflect the deadly threat
posed by smoking, but stopped short of a ban on all logos.
Instead, the bloc's executive body said graphic visual and
written warnings should take up 75 percent of the surface of all
cigarette and rolling tobacco packets, leaving 25 percent or
less for branding.
Australia imposed its logo ban in December, saying research
showed that the absence of distinctive branding on cigarette
packs makes smoking less attractive to young people. The tobacco
industry lost a legal challenge to those rules.
Asked whether a logo ban would cut EU tobacco sales further
than the Commission's proposal, McAvan said: "By the amount of
lobbying we are hearing, I think the cigarette companies must
think it has an effect."
But tobacco firms question whether removing branding will
influence consumption and say it would encourage counterfeiting.
"There is just no credible evidence to suggest that it will
achieve what its proponents think it will achieve," Imperial
Tobacco spokesman Simon Evans said.
McAvan said she backed most of the Commission's other
proposals, including bans on tobacco flavourings such as menthol
and clove, and slim or novelty cigarette packets.
She had not yet decided whether to propose new measures on
water pipes or hookahs, but would ask experts and national
regulators for assessments of their attractiveness to young
About 28 percent of the European Union's 500 million
citizens smoke, exceeding rates in other regions such as the
United States, with 18 percent, and Brazil, with 15 percent.
EU laws can take up to two years to finalise, but McAvan
said she would try to have agreement on the rules before
European Parliament elections in mid-2014, to avoid long delays.
The European Commission proposed its bill after two years of
preparations - a period also marked by heavy lobbying and the
forced resignation of former EU health commissioner John Dalli,
following a cash-for-influence investigation.
Dalli was forced to step down in October, after an EU
anti-corruption investigation found he was aware of a request
for 60 million euros ($79 million) by one of his associates in
return for proposing to lift an EU sales ban on a moist oral
snuff known as "snus", made by tobacco firm Swedish Match
Strict World Health Organisation rules govern any contact
between politicians and the tobacco industry, and apply to all
members of the European Parliament.
McAvan said the tobacco industry appeared to be using
retailers as a proxy to try to get around those rules and
influence EU lawmakers.