Europe Gets Tough on Smoking

By Hagmann, Michael | Bulletin of the World Health Organization, July 2001 | Go to article overview

Europe Gets Tough on Smoking


Hagmann, Michael, Bulletin of the World Health Organization


In a move coherent with WHO's push for stringent legislation of tobacco products, the European Parliament, in a 15 May vote, approved of a package of far-reaching anti-smoking laws. The new rules -- which now have to be adopted by the individual European Union (EU) member states -- will lower the maximum levels allowed for tar from 12 mg to 10 mg. Nicotine levels above 1 mg and carbon monoxide levels above 10 mg will be banned. The new rules will also require manufacturers to display giant health warnings on about a third of the surface of cigarette packets, up from less than 5% today.

Other measures of the EU directive, which will enter into force on 30 September 2002, include a ban on terms such as `low tar,' `ultra light' or `mild.' Also, tobacco companies will have to compile a list of all ingredients in their products, together with their quantities and the reasons for their use. What's more, from the end of next year, EU member states will have the option to call for dissuasive colour photographs or other illustrations to be displayed on cigarette packs. Graphic pictures depicting the effects of smoking on the heart and lungs, on male sexual potency, or other smoking-related diseases are already in use on cigarette packs in Canada since the beginning of the year.

Passed by a large majority, the legislation received praise from all sides. Mr David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection, welcomed the new directive, saying that people needed to be made aware of the dangers of smoking. "Smoking is not cool -- smoking kills," he said. In the EU alone, more than 500 000 deaths each year are due to tobacco consumption, according to WHO estimates. Worldwide, the annual toll is close to 4 million. Byrne's goal, he said, was to see "a reduction in the number of people smoking from one third of the European population to less than one fifth".

Dr Douglas Bettcher of WHO's Tobacco-Free Initiative called the new legislation "a very positive move. The EU is the first authority to ban such misleading descriptors as mild, low tar or light." For Bettcher the mandatory submission of comprehensive lists covering all ingredients in tobacco products is long overdue. …

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