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EU Parliament approves stricter legislation on tobacco market

European lawmakers have approved sweeping new regulations to curb smoking. The mandate includes imposing bigger warnings on cigarette packs, banning most flavorings and increasing regulation of electronic cigarettes.

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The European Parliament voted Tuesday in Strasbourg for stricter rules on smoking regulations and tobacco marketing, after months of bitter debate.

Under the new EU regulation, mandatory warnings would take up to 75 percent of tobacco packaging and be more prominent, including gruesome pictorials in order to discourage potential smokers. It also aims to stop young people from taking up smoking by increasing regulation on cigarettes featuring flavors such as menthol or fruit aromas.

Another big change will be stricter conditions for electronic cigarettes, which vaporize a nicotine-containing liquid. The battery-operated products look like real cigarettes are often marketed as a less harmful alternative to tobacco.

European Union members had already agreed in June to stricter rules for tobacco products. Now, Parliament must negotiate with each EU member state's government on certain details before the rules can enter into force.

Once that process is completed, the governments will have two years to adopt the directive into national law, therefore the new regulation is not expected to be put in place before 2016.

Tobacco lobbyists have criticized the regulation as disproportionate and limiting consumer freedom, while European officials advocate the benefits to public health.

Over the past decade, smoking bans in public, limits on tobacco firms' advertising and other measures have seen the number of smokers fall from about 40 percent of the 28-nation bloc's 500 million citizens to 28 percent today.

However, treatment of smoke-related diseases costs about 25 billion euros ($34 billion) a year, and the EU estimates there are around 700,000 smoking-related deaths across the European Union.

hc/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)

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