BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's health chief on Wednesday called for bigger warnings on cigarette packs and bans on certain flavorings like menthol, strawberry and vanilla, which can draw youngsters to smoking.
EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said legal proposals for a bigger crackdown on tobacco were aimed at reducing smoking-related deaths, which stand at around 700,000 a year in the 27-nation EU.
Borg said that "a city the size of Frankfurt of Palermo is wiped off our map every single year," necessitating a tougher crackdown on smoking.
His proposals now go to the EU member nations and parliament for possible adoption in 2014.
Borg insisted youngsters should not be duped into smoking by new, fancy packaging or exciting flavors that could get them hooked.
"Tobacco should look like tobacco and taste like tobacco to protect the youngsters," Borg said.
He said that beyond the attractive packages, "even more worryingly, smoking has been made more attractive with the use of strong flavors, e.g. vanilla or strawberry."
Borg wants the health warnings, which already take up a sizable part of a pack, to increase to 75 percent on the front and backs, and 50 percent on the sides, plastering them with such warnings "Smoking kills — quit now" and pictures of cancer-infested lungs. Individual member states could push the labeling restrictions even further.
Tobacco companies increasingly rely on their packaging to build brand loyalty and grab consumers since it is one of the few advertising levers left to them after authorities have curbed their presence in magazines and on billboards and TV.
Borg said treating smoking-related diseases cost about €25 billion ($33.26 billion) a year and resulted in annual productivity losses of €8 billion.
He said the proposals were specifically targeting the young since 70 percent of smokers start before their 18th birthday.
In a survey two years ago, just less a third of the 500 million EU nationals still light up.
Borg is hoping that once his plans are adopted, the new legislation will kick in as of 2015.