A proposal to revise the Tobacco Products Directive has finally been adopted by the European Commission, which aims to change how tobacco products are sold and marketed, with mandatory health warnings being implemented on all cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco products (RYO).

The European Commission also plans on banning tobacco products that use flavorings, as well as adding specific regulatory measures for e-cigarettes and herbal products.

A significant amount of research has been carried out since when the Tobacco Products Directive was originally implemented in 2001.

Evidence about the dangers of tobacco products with flavorings indicate that they often exacerbate the current health hazards associated with smoking tobacco products. One study found that menthol cigarettes can raise stroke risk beyond the risk that already exists in flavorless cigarettes. Tobacco companies have responded by finding new ways of marketing their products, making them more appealing to adolescents through new packaging and flavors.

According to the Commissioner in charge of Health & Consumer Policy, Tonio Borg:

"We delivered! The European Commission had promised a proposal on tobacco products by the end of 2012, and that's what I'm presenting today to Health ministers and the European Parliament. The figures speak for themselves : tobacco kills half of its users and is highly addictive.

With 70% of the smokers starting before the age of 18, the ambition of today's proposal is to make tobacco products and smoking less attractive and thus discourage tobacco initiation among young people.Consumers must not be cheated: tobacco products should look and taste like tobacco products and this proposal ensures that attractive packaging and flavourings are not used as a marketing strategy."

Tobacco use is known to be a major cause of cardiovascular disease and lung cancer and it is responsible for the death of 10% of adults. It's a tumor-promoter which causes the growth of cancerous cells, this was confirmed in a study carried out by Scientists at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

As smoking is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, many governments have made it a priority to prevent people from buying tobacco products and educate them about the many health risks.

In February 2005, the EU ratified the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). As a result, the Directive is somewhat out of date; member states have followed different regulations concerning the sale and marketing of tobacco products. Finally, following appeals made by the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, the directive will be revised.

The proposal plans on making the following changes:
  • All cigarette and RYO packaging have to include a health warning along with a picture covering at least 75% of the front and back of the packaging.

  • An information message has to be put on the back of the packaging stating that tobacco smoke contains over 70 different types of cancer causing substances.

  • A ban on all tobacco products with flavorings or increased toxicity and addictiveness.

  • Oral tobacco products will remain illegal in all EU member states, apart from Sweden where they must have health warnings on the packaging.

  • Products that contain nicotine below a certain threshold (e.g., electronic cigarettes) will continue to be legal, however, they must carry health warnings. Products over the threshold have to be authorized, such as medicinal products.

  • An age verification mechanism and notification for Internet retailers to prevent people underage purchasing tobacco products.

  • A tracking system will monitor the sale of tobacco products within the EU to prevent any forms of illicit trade.
A public consultation which brought over 85,000 responses was carried out prior to making the proposal, along with an evaluation of the impact it could have both economically and socially.

Several countries around the world have started imposing restrictions on how cigarettes are sold and marketed, in order to prevent young people from ever becoming addicted. Research has shown that if people do not smoke during their teenage years, they are unlikely ever to become long-term regular (addicted) smokers.

Australia has been at the forefront in introducing new laws. In November 2011, the Australian Senate voted in favor of new legislation forcing cigarette companies to package their products in plain olive green, with no branding. Despite opposition from the tobacco lobby, the new law, the first of its kind anywhere in the world, came into effect in November 2012.

Written by Joseph Nordqvist