European Union diplomats approved new anti-tobacco legislation on Wednesday, including larger health warnings on cigarette packets and the bloc's first ever rules on electronic cigarettes.
"Agreement on the tobacco directive is a big step towards a healthier and more prosperous society," said Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, health minister of Lithuania, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
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The deal was struck after governments and the European Parliament resolved a dispute over how tightly to regulate the booming market for e-cigarettes, which some analysts predict will eclipse the $700 billion-a-year regular cigarette market in 10 years.
Under the agreement, most e-cigarettes will be sold as consumer products rather than as more-tightly regulated medical devices, as governments had initially wanted.
But while popular refillable e-cigarettes will be allowed, the European Commission could impose an EU-wide ban in future if three or more member states prohibit them on health grounds.
From 2016 when the rules changes will take effect, cigarettes, rolling tobacco and other products will have to carry graphic picture and text warnings covering 65 percent of the front and back of packets.
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The rules also include a ban on smoking tobacco products containing flavours such as fruit or vanilla. Menthol cigarettes will be banned four years later, after some governments demanded a slower phase-out.
"I firmly believe that prominent visual warnings will serve as effective reminders of the severe health consequences of smoking and help people make well-informed choices," European health commissioner Tonio Borg said in a statement.
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"And the prohibition of characterising flavours such as fruit or menthol, which appeal to young people, will make smoking initiation less appealing," he said.
The deal is now expected to be formally approved by EU ministers and the full parliament before entering force next year.
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