(LUXEMBOURG) European Union health ministers on Friday approved plans to ban menthol and other flavoured cigarettes as part of a crackdown on youth smoking.

But the ministers reduced the size of mandatory health warnings on packages, including pictures of diseased organs, and they stopped short of banning “slim” cigarettes.

The proposed legislation must now be voted on by the European parliament. If they approve the law it could be in force across the 27 nation bloc within three years.

Irish Health Minister James Reilly, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, said it was a “a huge step forward in the fight against tobacco use”.

“We cannot have a situation where we have a product that kills 700,000 Europeans every year looking to replace those customers with children, because that’s where the advertising is focused,” he said.

The health ministers backed the plans despite objections from some countries that they would have a negative economic effect, an argument strongly backed by tobacco companies.

EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, himself a former smoker, said he believed the ban could be in place within three years, providing that it is passed by European MPs.

The proposed legislation was released in December by the European Commission the executive arm of the EU and has since been under consideration by the bloc’s ministers.

The health ministers meeting on Friday agreed a ban on tobacco products with a “characterising flavour” other than tobacco, for example fruit or menthol, which are particularly believed to target the young, according to a statement from the Irish presidency.

They also agreed to force tobacco companies to cover 65 percent of cigarette packets with written health warnings and gruesome pictures of diseased body parts.

But that figure is down from the 75 percent of packaging that was proposed in December.

One person involved in the negotiations however pointed out that it was an improvement from the current level of 40 percent.

Britain meanwhile secured the possibility for individual EU states to insist on plain packaging.

The ministers agreed on minimum packaging including a ban on “lipstick style” packs popular with young people, it said.

Council agrees its position on revised EU tobacco directive

European commission – olaf – stepping up the fight against contraband and counterfeit cigarettes

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Combating the international trade in contraband and counterfeit cigarettes has been the focus of a three day international conference hosted by the European Anti Fraud Office (OLAF) and French Customs. The conference, which helps to cement operational relationships between the EU Member States and key third countries, concluded today in Marseilles, France.

In 2009, OLAF was notified by the Member States of seizures of 4.7 billion cigarettes, indicating that actual losses of taxes and duties to the EU and Member States as a result of cigarette smuggling are approximately 10 billion a year. The global nature of cigarette smuggling means that international cooperation is essential in tackling the problem. OLAF plays an important role in this respect, coordinating and supporting the work of the Member States and ensuring good working relations with neighbouring countries.

“Criminal gangs trafficking counterfeit and contraband cigarettes are responsible for defrauding European taxpayers out of billions of euros every year. It is vital that we work together to bring them to justice. This conference has reinforced international partnerships and strengthened our fight against fraud,” said OLAF’s acting Director General Nicholas Ilett.

The conference was attended by delegates from all 27 Member States, as well as law enforcement agents from Belarus, Croatia, Egypt, Montenegro, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine. The World Customs Organization (WCO) and Europol also participated. The main focus of discussions this year was the new trends in smuggling and the challenges faced in different regions of Europe. There were also presentations from four of the world s leading tobacco manufacturers, Philip Morris International (PMI), Japan Tobacco International (JTI), British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco Limited, which have all concluded legally binding cooperation agreements with the Commission and the Member States.

This is the fifteenth year that OLAF s Task Group Cigarettes has organised an international conference to support and stimulate operational relationships between the Member States and other countries so that there can be rapid exchanges of operational information to target smuggling and counterfeiting, which result in substantial losses of revenue for Member States and the European Union.

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