The European Parliament has approved legislation aimed at cutting back on cigarette use. The new law will allow graphic warning labels on packages and phase out menthol cigarettes.
The parliament approved the measure 514-66 during a vote on Wednesday, with 58 abstentions. European Union governments will now draft a final approval on the reforms, expected to be approved March 14.
"The new measures are big step forward for tobacco control, and will help to prevent the next generation of smokers from being recruited," said British EU lawmaker Linda McAvan, who pushed the legislation through parliament.
The agreement reached Wednesday follows a compromise made in December between parliament and the EU member state governments. The new regulations cover around 90 percent of tobacco products.
The measure requires 65 percent of the front and back of cigarette packages to contain health warnings, including graphic photos depicting diseases caused by smoking. Flavored tobacco products with high sales volumes would be banned and a four-year phase out plan for popular menthol cigarettes would be implemented.
The deal also includes regulations for E-cigarettes, such as allowing individual EU states to decide if they should be made available in pharmacies.
The tobacco industry lobbied intensely against the new changes, with critics saying the regulations will limit consumer choice, encourage illegal trade in cigarettes, cost the government money and reduce jobs. However, EU lawmakers say the deal is designed to combat the "devastating effect" cigarettes have had on the bloc.
"By ensuring that tobacco products look and taste like tobacco products, the new rules will help to reduce the number of people who start smoking in the EU," said Toni Borg, the bloc's health commissioner.
In 2012, around 28 percent of the EU's 500 million citizens were believed to be smokers. Around 700,000 people die every year in the bloc from smoking-related causes.
dr/kms (dpa, AFP, Reuters)