The European Parliament has formally approved changes to the Tobacco Products Directive paving the way for EU member states to independently introduce further amendments such as plain packaging.
The new rules will require all future tobacco packaging to feature graphic images across 65% of the front and back of cigarette packs with 50% of the sides to feature text health warnings replacing the current tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide levels.
A small amount of space will remain for branding, as the approved changes do not enforce the introduction of plain packaging across the EU, unless the individual member state implements its own legislation for standardised packaging.
Other rules amended under the directive include: a ban on the sale of cigarettes of less than 20 in a pack; a minimum weight limit of 30g of Roll-Your-Own product; a ban on menthol cigarettes and other flavoured products; and a ban on pack shapes for cigarettes other than the traditional flip-top box.
“By ensuring that tobacco products look and taste like tobacco products, the new rules will help to reduce the number of people who start smoking in the EU,” said EU health commissioner Tonio Borg.
Mike Ridgway, spokesman for a lobby group made up of seven UK printing, packaging and materials companies supplying the tobacco industry, said that the new rules would undoubtedly affect printing and packaging requirements for tobacco products and that the increased regulation was largely unnecessary because there was no consumer evidence that it would be effective.
“The introduction of plain packaging, as introduced in Australia over 12 months, has been left to the member states. In Australia it has been reported that smoking levels have remained consistent but the level of the counterfeit and illicit trade has increased by 2%, losing valuable tax revenue to the government and allowing unregulated sales to all groups including young and vulnerable people,” he added.
Ridgway called the introduction of the additional regulations “generally disappointing” and that other methods of dissuading people smoking were more successful.
The new legislation will be put forward for final approval on 14 March.
Members states must comply by the first half of 2016.