The European Parliament approved on Wednesday (26 February) an update of the EU's 2001 tobacco directive, which had previously been negotiated with the EU's 28 health ministers.
The main aim of the new directive is to make tobacco products less attractive to young people.
The legislation will make it mandatory for all cigarette packs to carry picture warnings covering 65% of their surface. E-cigarettes will be regulated, either as medicinal products, if they claim to help smokers to quit, or as tobacco products.
Moreover, the legislation will ban flavourings in cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco that would make the product more attractive by giving it a 'characterising flavour'. Menthol would be banned from 2020. Flavours would be allowed for water pipe tobacco.
Member states would have to put the provisions on tobacco products into effect within two years of the updated directive's date of entry into force.
"This is the culmination of years of work against the background of intense lobbying from the tobacco industry and its front groups," said British MEP Linda McAvan from the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group, who was rapporteur on the directive.
"The new measures are a big step forward for tobacco control, and will help to prevent the next generation of smokers from being recruited. We know that it is children, not adults, who start to smoke: the overwhelming majority of smokers start before their 18th birthday," McAvan continued.
Current legislation requires that health warnings to cover at least 30% of the area of the front of the pack and 40% of the back. The proposed text would increase this to 65%, front and back, and would require these warnings to be in picture form.
Packs of fewer than 20 cigarettes, which are cheaper and hence more accessible to children, would be banned in the handful of countries where they are still allowed on the market.
However, the leader of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, Martin Callanan, said the legislation was too prescriptive.
"E-cigs are not healthy, but they are surely far better for you than smoking tobacco. We have fought for sensible regulation on e-cigs that recognises the role they have played in taking many thousands of people off of smoking," Callanan said.
"The parliament voted for e-cigs to be lightly regulated until we know what regulation might be required. Yet MEPs and commission officials sneaked a whole raft of red tape into back-room negotiations without discussing them with e-cigs users or other MEPs. We have drafted huge parts of this law on the back of a fag packet with decisions about smoke filled rooms ironically being made in smoke filled rooms in Brussels," the Conservative MEP said.