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Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
MEPs vote to enlarge cigarette warnings
cigarette production
Manufacturers may have to increase warning size
Euro-MPs have voted for massive increases in the size of health warnings on cigarette packs.

But a UK anti-smoking pressure group fears that the demands by a small number of MEPs could jeopardise a whole raft of different restrictions.

The MEPs want reminders of the risks of smoking to cover 40% of the front of every packet and 60% of the back.

They want the warnings to be printed only in black on a white background to give them more impact, instead of the present system which requires only "contrasting colours" on packets.

And they are calling for cigarette descriptions such as "low tar", "mild" and "light" to be banned.

However, the proposals - which far exceed the 25% pack warning increase originally proposed, have to be agreed by a meeting of all MEPs - and then a committee of EU ministers later next month.

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) fears that important tobacco control measures in the directive could be lost if the ministers decide the new pack warning sizes are excessive.

Spokesman Amanda Sandford said: "We would rather sacrifice the big warnings to save the other parts of the directive, like the new limits on the amount of tar and nicotine in cigarettes."

Labour's environment spokesman David Bowe MEP said: "The Commission and many EU governments support the kind of measures we have voted for today and we therefore expect this to go through."

Far stricter

There are already EU rules governing health warnings on packets, advertising, and the tar and nicotine content of cigarettes.

Amanda Sandford
Amanda Sandford: fears 40% may be asking too much
But the existing rules fall far short of what MEPs are now demanding - with health warnings currently required on only 4% of the surface of cigarette packets.

The UK government exceeds this EU minimum, obliging companies to "advertise" the health dangers on 6% of the packet's surface.

In contrast Canada has already made health warnings compulsory on 90% of the surface of a cigarette pack.

After today's vote of the European Parliament's environment committee meeting in Brussels, Mr Bowe said tobacco companies were trying to kill the legislation.

"They are using every trick in the book to put a stop to these new rules.

"Cigarette companies say their products are for informed adults, but existing warnings are obscured by clever colour combinations, striking packaging and tucked behind careful displays.

"Most smokers neither know the full risks nor bear the full costs of their choice."

If passed by EU ministers at the end of June, it will still be several months before the directive comes into force.

It will also force tobacco companies to include much more information about any additives they include in their products.

FOREST, the group which campaigns for equal rights for the smoker, said the whole idea of warnings on cigarette packs was a waste of time.

A spokeswoman said: "People are well aware of the dangers. This is totally pointless. It's a waste of taxpayers' money paying for MEPs to sit around debating this."

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We will look at the call from the MEPs but we have been working on this through the European Commission and we are content with the proposal which has been put forward to increase the size of the warning to 25%, or possibly 30% in the case of certain foreign languages.

"The regulations in the UK currently require only 6% of the pack to be used so this would represent a major increase in the size of the warning."

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