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Thursday, 14 December, 2000, 15:25 GMT
Hard-hitting tobacco warnings rejected
Campaigners want more graphic health warnings
EU health ministers have refused to sanction proposals for hard-hitting health warnings on cigarette packets.

The proposals, approved by the European Parliament on Wednesday, include plans to use graphic images of smoking-related disease on packs.

The warnings would cover at least 30% of the front of each pack and 40% of the back.

Euro MPs had also approved plans to ban the distinction between "low tar", "mild" and "light" cigarettes, and to prohibit cigarette exports from the EU to countries that have no tar and nicotine limits.

However, ministers on Thursday sent the proposals back to a conciliation committee made up of European Council and Parliament members for further consideration.

It is thought that the use of graphic images, for instance of diseased lungs, is a sticking point.

'Really problematic'

EU Health Commissioner David Byrne refused to specify which parts of the proposed package were unacceptable.

But he did say the proposed ban on the use of terms such as "low tar" was "really problematic".

Euro MP Catherine Stihler, Labour's health spokeswoman, said the fact that the proposals had been sent for conciliation was not a great surprise.

But she added: "It is paramount that these proposals are adopted: a picture says a thousand words and these images will help to save thousands of lives."

Clive Bates, director of the UK anti-smoking charity Action on Smoking and Health, said the stumbling block centred on the fact that individual member states were to have been given the power to decide on whether images should be used on cigarette packs - a policy which runs contrary to the EU's drive for harmonisation.

He said it was important to push through the other proposals - even if it meant dropping the plans for images at this stage.

However, he told BBC News Online: "The evidence is clear that images do have an impact on smokers.

"The fact that 550,000 people die each year in the EU from smoking-related disease justifies the most draconian policies on labelling and warning. Personally, I would not leave manufacturers any space at all on the packet to advertise."

Current EU legislation requires cigarette health warnings to cover a minimum of 4% of the pack.

Member states have the option to go further and the UK opted for 6%.

As well as hugely increasing the size of these warnings, the new proposals would compel tobacco companies to print them in black on a white background - as opposed to the current system which requires only "contrasting colours."

In a related move, Mr Byrne revealed plans for a new bill to curb tobacco advertising.

The new bill will replace proposed legislation thrown out by the European Court of Justice earlier this year on the grounds that it was legally flawed.

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See also:

06 Dec 00 | Health
Tobacco ad ban back on agenda
14 Jun 00 | Health
Tobacco industry under attack
13 Dec 00 | Health
Tough tobacco warnings approved
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