From its headquarters in Brussels, the European Union is sending a message to the Marlboro Man: "This town ain't big enough for the both of us."
In its latest showdown with the tobacco industry, the 15-member union has drafted tough new rules that could put color photographs of diseased lungs and rotting teeth on cigarette packs sold in Europe.
The move comes amid alarming signs that more and more young people in Western Europe are taking up the habit.
"I believe that young people have the right to smoke, but the tobacco manufacturers spend huge sums of money trying to make their products appear glamorous, and this image needs to be countered," said Jules Maaten, the Dutch member of the European Parliament who sponsored the legislation.
"This directive represents a watershed in the fight against the scourge of tobacco," EU health commissioner David Byrne told reporters last week, after EU authorities agreed on the law. "My key priority is to ensure that young people do not start smoking."
The law, which takes effect next September, requires cigarettemakers to put blunt health warnings over 30 percent of the front of a pack and nearly half of the back. They will be able to choose from an approved list of warnings such as "Smoking kills" and "Smokers die younger." EU-member governments may also insist on color photographs illustrating the dangers of smoking. In Canada, such illustrations have been found to be 60 percent more effective than written cautions.
The law also lowers the amount of tar allowed in cigarettes, and for the first time limits the permissible quantities of nicotine and carbon monoxide.
At the same time, it bans the use of such terms as "mild," "light," or "low-tar" on tobacco packaging, on the grounds that they misleadingly suggest some cigarettes are safer than others. This ban threatens such brand names as Marlboro Lights and Camel Lights.
"We now have the means to take rigorous measures against the greatest threat to public health in Europe today," said Lars Engqvist, the Swedish health minister, in a statement. Sweden currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
Smoking is blamed for the deaths of 500,000 people a year in Western Europe, where about one-third of adults smoke. Mr. Byrne said his goal is to bring that number down to levels in the United States, where about 20 percent of people smoke.
The new directive won praise from antismoking activists. "It is a great success, and we are all very pleased," says Clive Bates, director of the London-based Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) lobbying group. …