Left-wing lawmakers accused centre-right parties in the European Parliament of being in the hands of industry after the assembly voted on Tuesday (8 October) to water down proposed EU rules on tobacco control.
Parliament rejected the inclusion of large pictorial health warnings on tobacco products covering 75% of the front and back of packs, opting instead for 65% coverage and a health warning.
Slim cigarettes, which health experts say are particularly attractive to younger smokers and women, will not be banned, and e-cigarettes will be regulated, but not stubbed out in the EU's new tobacco directive.
However, all flavoured tobacco products, such as menthol, vanilla and strawberry, will be banned along with with packages containing fewer than 20 cigarettes.
"We know that it is children, not adults, who start smoking. And despite the downward trend in most member states of adult smokers, the World Health Organization figures show worrying upward trends in a number of our member states of young smokers," said British MEP and rapporteur for the tobacco directive Linda McAvan, of the Parliament's Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group.
"We need to stop tobacco companies targeting young people with an array of gimmicky products and we need to make sure that cigarette packs carry effective warnings. In Canada, large pictorial warnings were introduced in 2001 and youth smoking halved," McAvan added.
'Victory for common sense'
Martin Callanan, a British MEP from the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) group, said the idea of restricting e-cigarettes would have been "totally crazy".
Callanan said that these products had helped countless people stop smoking more harmful cigarettes and yet some MEPs wanted to make them harder to manufacture than ordinary tobacco.
"Many electronic cigarettes are produced by small businesses who would simply not have been able to afford the strict authorisation demands the EU would place on them. We could not stand by and allow MEPs to put companies out of business and people out of work," the conservative MEP said.
Callanan added that while it made sense to find ways of making tobacco less attractive to younger people, conservatives could not have supported a measure that would cost jobs and push people away from electronic cigarettes and back towards the real thing.
"This is a victory for common sense," Callanan stated.
'Doing the industry's lobbying'
Commenting after the vote, the greens accused the centre-right parties of doing the work of the tobacco lobby.
"This is a shameful day for the European Parliament, as a centre-right majority, led by the European People's Party (EPP) group, has done the bidding of the tobacco industry and voted for weaker rules, which are totally at odds with citizens' interests and public health," green public health spokesperson Carl Schlyter said.
"It is scandalous that the centre-right in this house seems to be more concerned about the profits of the tobacco industry than the health of EU citizens."
Schlyter, a Swedish MEP, added that the committee for the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) voted for robust legislation, but that the core proposals had been scaled back in the plenary vote. The only real victors from the vote were big tobacco firms, he said, adding that their "aggressive and expensive lobbying campaigns have paid off".