Graphic cigarette pack warnings are rejected

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The Independent Online

Euro-MPs have backed tough new anti-smoking measures, including a huge increase in the size of health warnings on cigarette packs and new maximum levels of tar and nicotine.

Euro-MPs have backed tough new anti-smoking measures, including a huge increase in the size of health warnings on cigarette packs and new maximum levels of tar and nicotine.

The European Parliament decided last night that warnings should cover 35 per cent of the front of cigarette packs and 45 per cent of the back, although the proportions will be higher in countries which have more than one official language.

Cigarette makers will no longer be able to label their products "low tar," "mild" or "light" unless those descriptions have been authenticated by member state governments.

The vote underlined the powers of the parliament by tightening measures put forward by the European Commission, which had proposed that a quarter of the surface of cigarette packs should be devoted to health warnings.

However, extensive lobbying by the tobacco industry appeared to have had some affect as the Strasbourg parliament rejected a call for cigarette packs to show shock photos of smoke-stained teeth, scarred lungs or young children imitating smoking adults.

The move to use the images follows experiments in Canada where up to 90 per cent of the surface of cigarette packs will be devoted to health warnings by the end of the year.

Wilfried Dembach, a spokesman for the European Community Cigarette Manufacturers, a Brussels-based trade group, called that "disproportionate," saying that what counted for consumers was the information in the warning.

But Catherine Stihler, the Labour group's health spokeswoman, expressed her disappointment with the rejection of shock images by paraphrasing the adage that a picture is worth 1,000 words. "These pictures would have saved a thousand lives," she said.

The legislation, which is likely to take effect in January 2003, now goes to the health ministers of the 15 EU nations who are expected to give it their approval on 29 June.

The maximum amount of tar per cigarette will be cut to 10 milligrams, from 12mg, the maximum amount of nicotine lowered to 1mg and the amount of carbon monoxide reduced to 10mg. However, the tobacco lobby won another partial victory by staving off a stipulation that those standards apply to cigarettes produced in the EU but exported outside, mostly to the third world.

That was due to have come into effect in 2003 but will now be delayed a further three years, following claims that it would cost up to 3,000 jobs in the UK alone.

David Byrne, the European Commissioner for health and consumer protection, said the parliament's vote vindicated his decision to launch the latest anti-smoking initiative last November.

Brussels estimates that 500,000 Europeans die prematurely every year from tobacco-related diseases and, since the late 1980s, the EU has imposed bans on tobacco advertising and sponsorship as well as tougher rules on tobacco labelling.

David Byrne, European Commissioner for health and consumer protection, welcomed the parliament's vote, saying, that it vindicated his decision to launch the latest anti-smoking initiative in November.

Brussels estimates that 500,000 Europeans die prematurely every year from tobacco-related diseases.

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