EU agrees to ban on menthol cigarettes

Changes to packaging for ’slims’ agreed at Luxembourg health meeting


EU health ministers have agreed to ban menthol cigarettes and impose new rules on packaging, at a key meeting of health ministers this afternoon in Luxembourg chaired by the Irish presidency of the European Council.

However, members stopped short of banning “slim” cigarettes amid opposition from a number of member states.

Speaking after the meeting, Minister for Health James Reilly said that the move would help people to make “knowledgeable, informed choices” about tobacco purchases, adding that member state agreement on the directive had been a key achievement of the Irish presidency of the European Council.

“Each year 700,000 people across the EU die from tobacco-related illnesses, so many thousands more suffer from chronic illnesses brought on by tobacco consumption,” he said. “Smoking is one of the greatest preventable , avoidable threats to people’s health.”

The passage of the tobacco directive has been characterised by intense lobbying by the tobacco industry in Brussels and in member states.

Irish officials have been leading discussions between member states over the last few months in Brussels.

Having reached a “general approach” among member states for the new directive, it will now fall to the Lithuanian presidency of the EU Council to secure agreement with the European Parliament.

The new rules are expected to come into force in approximately three to four years, with EU health Commissioner Tony Borg predicting that it is “still possible” to approve the directive within the current mandate of the European Parliament.

The commissioner said he had prioritised the file on taking up his position as health commissioner late last year to ensure its swift implementation, noting that the European Commission aims to reduce the number of smokers by 2 per cent over the next five years.

Under the Council’s proposals, 65 per cent of packaging will contain a health warning, compared to 75 per cent in the initial proposal by the European Commission, though members will be free to introduce complete plain packaging if they so wish.

Ireland has been the first EU country to indicate its intention to adopt plain, or non-branded, packaging.

While slim cigarettes have not been banned, slim cigarette products will be obliged to conform with the new packaging standards.