European Union - Revised EU Tobacco Products Directive approved by the European Parliament

The revised Directive, approved by the European Parliament on 26 February, strengthens the rules on how tobacco products are manufactured, produced and presented in the European Union (EU), and introduces specific rules for certain tobacco-related products. The new Directive aims to improve the functioning of the EU's internal market for tobacco products, while assuring a high level of public health. It also aims to make tobacco products and tobacco consumption less attractive, in particular among young people.

The new Directive covers areas such as health warnings on tobacco products, tobacco flavourings, electronic cigarettes and traceability of tobacco products.

The new Directive requires member states of the EU to develop legislation, inter alia:

  • Requiring cigarette and roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco packs to feature picture and text health warnings covering 65% of the front and the back of packs – to be placed on the top edge; in addition, 50% of the sides of packs will also be covered with health warnings (e.g. "smoking kills – quit now"; "tobacco smoke contains over 70 substances known to cause cancer"), replacing the current printing of tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide levels;
  • Requiring each pack of cigarettes to contain a minimum of 20 sticks;
  • Banning promotional or misleading features or elements on packs. This includes, for example, references to lifestyle benefits, to taste or flavourings or their absence (e.g. "free of additives"), special offers or suggestions that a particular product is less harmful than another;
  • Prohibiting characterizing flavours in cigarettes and RYO tobacco; menthol will be banned after a phase-out period of four years; other tobacco products, such as cigars, cigarillos, smokeless products and snus are exempted from the ban on characterizing flavours.
  • Introducing mandatory reporting on ingredients for all tobacco products through a standardized electronic format; and further reporting obligations for cigarettes and RYO;
  • Maintaining the ban on snus, except in Sweden.

The Directive also aims at ensuring equal treatment across the EU for nicotine-containing e-cigarettes (products that do not contain nicotine are not covered by the Directive). As nicotine is an addictive and toxic substance, safety and quality requirements for nicotine-containing e-cigarettes are necessary. Reporting obligations are also needed so that public authorities can monitor and learn more about these products. A number of decisions on e-cigarettes will be left to the Member States, e.g. the regulation of flavours, advertising without cross-border effects, and age limits.

The new Directive also includes strong measures against illicit trade of tobacco products to ensure that only products complying with the Directive are sold in the EU. It introduces an EU-wide tracking and tracing system for the legal supply chain and visible and invisible security features (e.g. holograms) which should facilitate law enforcement and help authorities and consumers detect illicit products.

The new Directive should enter into force in May 2014. A transposition period of two years for Member States to bring national legislation into line with the revised Directive means that most of the new rules will apply in the first half of 2016.

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