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EU ministers agree to stricter tobacco laws

If deal is passed, cigarette packs must display bigger health warnings

LONDON — Cigarette packs in Europe would have to carry bigger health warnings, and cigarettes with menthol or other flavorings face a ban, under an agreement European Union ministers struck Friday after spirited negotiations.

A small group led by Poland won a reprieve for slim cigarettes, which are popular among female smokers in several former communist nations and had also been considered for a ban.

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The agreement is not the final decision, as the new tobacco rules require approval by the European Parliament before being put into effect. But the compromise was a milestone because it secured the support of national governments, including some that had fought hard to soften measures opposed by the tobacco industry and some smoker advocacy groups.

The measures reflect a concerted effort by European policy makers to reduce the attractiveness of tobacco to young people in hopes of preventing them from taking up the habit. Cigarettes with menthol and other flavorings are considered easier for novices to smoke.

Under the deal, a health warning combining pictures and text must cover 65 percent of the front and back of all cigarette packs. That represents a reduction from the proposal going into the meeting of a 75 percent minimum, but it is an increase from the current 40 percent figure.

James Reilly, the health minister of Ireland, which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, told a news conference in Luxembourg that about 700,000 Europeans die every year of tobacco-related causes and that smoking is “one of the greatest preventable and avoidable threats to health.” Packaging that appeals to younger smokers, he said, was tantamount to “entrapment of our young people.”

The health ministers also agreed on regulation of electronic cigarettes, requiring authorization by relevant agencies in the member states before exceeding a certain nicotine threshold.

Currently, only some of the European Union nations apply such restrictions on electronic cigarettes, which produce vapors from a nicotine liquid, rather than burning tobacco. But Tonio Borg, the European commissioner in charge of health and consumer policy, said e-cigarettes “can give a false sense of security.”

A ban on menthol cigarettes would not go into effect for some time. National governments would have up to three years to carry out the rules after the new tobacco law came into force.

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