European Union health ministers yesterday approved more stringent controls on cigarette contents and health warnings despite opposition from Germany – the only country to vote against the new rules. Eleven of the fifteen health ministers were in favour of the directive, while Austria, Luxembourg and Spain abstained.

The directive requires the printing of "smoking kills" warnings on cigarette packs and imposes tighter restrictions on the use of carbon monoxide, tar and nicotine. It also prohibits descriptor terms such as "light", "low tar" and "mild" – another measure to which Germany and the cigarette manufacturers object. Manufacturers will also be required to supply details of ingredients.

The directive will now return to the European Parliament for a second reading. Parliament, which broadly endorsed the proposals in a first reading earlier this month, will consider the matter again later in the year, and the final format will be determined next year in negotiations between Parliament and individual governments.

Meanwhile, Germany and the tobacco manufacturers are mulling a legal challenge. Berlin insists it is not against tighter controls but believes that elements in the directive cannot be justified under the proposed single market legal base. Nor, it argues (as do the manufacturers), that there is any justification for extending the new rules to cigarette exports. The industry claims that the latter measure will cost it 9,000 jobs; also that requirements to print "smoking kills" or similar warnings on a quarter of the surface of each packet are excessive.

News source: Financial Times