While we in the U.S. are still trying to place restrictions on electronic cigarette sales to minors, the European Parliament has voted in heavy restrictions on cigarettes and electronic cigarettes in the coming years. Bans on flavorings, including menthol, and package size and limits on nicotine levels will be voted on in March and expected to be implemented in May 2014. These new rules are being put into place to “deter young people from experimenting with, and becoming addicted to, tobacco.” Can the United States follow their lead?
The EU bill, which originally wanted an “immediate ban” on menthols, will phase them out by 2022 because they are “consumed more by older smokers and less by younger people.” One British pro-smoking advocate said “removing menthol will do little to deter children from smoking.” But others say it’s the flavorings which make it easier for youth to handle the act of smoking. Flavorings in cigarettes, including fruit and vanilla, will also be banned in the EU. The U.S. is already one step ahead of their EU counterparts as flavors in cigarettes, except menthol, have been banned here for several years. Some makers of flavored cigarettes get around the law by renaming them, and selling them as a lower-taxed cigar. The picture on the left shows both clove cigarettes and cigars, note there is no difference. Removing menthol from tobacco would help deter kids smoking in the U.S. as “about half of smokers age 12-17 years reported smoking menthol cigarettes, more so than older smokers (44.8% among adolescents, 30.1% among older adults),” according to Smokefree.gov. The FDA is currently in the process of considering restricting or banning menthol cigarettes. Cigarette companies, always one step ahead, are already planning for the ban by adding menthol “balls” to the filter so smokers can still get that cooling effect. Anything to reduce the number of youth smokers, whether in Europe or in the U.S., means that there will be fewer older smokers in the years to come.
Restrictions in the EU will also include the number of cigarettes in a package; all packages must now contain 20 cigarettes versus the smaller, lipstick-style packaging aimed at women and young girls (pictured at left). “These smaller packs account for 38% of cigarettes sold in the UK.” According to one pro-smoking advocate, the small packs were “‘an economic necessity’ for some” and the ban “punishes those on low incomes.” Since cigarettes provide absolutely no health or nutritional value to life, why would anyone, other than the tobacco industry, consider it a necessity at all?
Originally, the European Commission proposed in December that electronic cigarettes be treated as medicinal products with a limit on the nicotine because “the purpose of e-cigarettes is to help people to stop smoking or have yet another alternative to stop smoking,” according to one MEP. However, the current deal reached allows nicotine content to be 18mg per unit and member states can chose to regulate “e-cigarettes as pharmaceuticals” on their own. Member states can also “enact national bans on refillable e-cigarettes,” and “if more than 3 members states choose to do so, then the Commission can impose an EU ban in order to maintain the integrity of the single market.” In the UK, e-cigarettes will be licensed as a medicine by 2016. Considering the number of youth using e-cigarettes in the U.S., as well as in Florida, has more than doubled in the past two years, it would seem this is a gateway product to nicotine dependency as students experiment with this new device.
Finally, EU cigarette packs will have new picture warnings that will cover 65% of a pack, front and back, as well as warnings on the top. The warnings will take affect by 2016. Although the U.S. was “the first nation to require a health warning on cigarette packages,” our warning labels are one of the smallest and least prominent. The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act attempted to change that by requiring colored graphic warning labels to cover 50% of the front and back of each pack. According to lower courts, the labels violated the right to free speech, but the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the 2009 Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear appeals. The FDA will now have to go through the appropriate steps to get the new labels approved.
Although this new legislation is considered key to reducing the number of Europeans who die from tobacco related issues caused by smoking, a director of Smoke Free Partnership said “it is outrageous to see so many concessions made to an industry that buys its wealth and influence by marketing a deadly product.” The same could be said about how tobacco is viewed here in the states.