European lawmakers approved sweeping new regulations governing the multibillion dollar tobacco market on Tuesday, including bigger health warnings on cigarette packs and a ban on menthol and other flavorings to further curb smoking. They stopped short, however, of tough limits on electronic cigarettes.

The European Parliament vote in Strasbourg, France came after months of bitter debate and an unusually strong lobbying campaign by the tobacco industry, which decries the regulations as disproportionate and say they limit consumer freedom. The Parliament dismissed many of the industry’s arguments, agreeing on a slightly watered down version of the proposed legislation.

The lawmakers voted to impose warning labels with the inclusion of gruesome pictures, for example showing cancer infested lungs covering 65 percent of cigarette packs and to be shown above the brand logo. Current warning labels cover only 30 to 40 percent of packages.

The legislature still must reach a compromise with the 28 EU governments on certain points before the rules can enter into force. Diplomats say a deal could be struck by the end of the year.

The new rules were viewed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and EU health officials as an important milestone but not the end of their quest to stop people from smoking and keep teens from ever picking up a cigarette.

Smoking bans in public places, limits on tobacco firms’ advertising, and other measures over the past decade have seen the number of smokers fall from an estimated 40 percent of the EU’s 500 million citizens to 28 percent now. Still, treatment of smoke related diseases costs about 25 billion euros ($34 billion) a year, and an estimated 700,000 smoking related deaths per year across the 28 nation bloc.

Legislators also voted for new limits on advertising for electronic cigarettes, but rejected a measure that would have restricted them to medical use only.

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The battery operated products, which are widely popular in the United States and many European countries, turn nicotine into a vapor inhaled by the user and are often marketed as a less harmful alternative to tobacco.

Many health experts say e cigarettes are useful for people trying to quit or cut down on nicotine.

Armando Peruga, a tobacco control expert at WHO in Geneva, said regulating e cigarettes wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing and that WHO is currently evaluating their safety and effectiveness.

“We do think e cigarettes could be useful, but we need more information,” Peruga said. “We have not yet ruled them out. We do think they could be helpful for some smokers.”

Linda McAvan, a member of the European Parliament and Britain’s opposition Labor Party, said she expects tougher rules on electronic cigarettes down the line, and that most EU governments want to see them regulated.

“We want to make sure they aren’t marketed as gateway products for young people,” she said.

The European Parliament also voted to ban additives and flavorings like chocolate or vanilla, starting three years after the legislation will come into force, and menthol, five years after the legislation is in place.

Opponents argued fruity or other pleasant aromas entice novices to smoke. Lawmakers also banned small packages said to entice young smokers, but rejected a ban on slim cigarettes popular with women.

“We are not telling Europeans what to do, but we don’t want the industry to mislead the young,” McAvan stressed. “We want tobacco products that look and taste like tobacco. There won’t be any more lipstick or perfume style cigarettes packets,” she added.

Lobbying against the measure was led by Philip Morris International Inc., which owns several brands such as Marlboro and said the new legislation was “deeply flawed.” It condemned what it called “oversized graphic health warnings and pack standardization.”

The vote “failed to take into account the views of millions of EU citizens, including our employees, retailers, tobacco growers and adult consumers who will be impacted by these measures,” the company said in a statement.

Philip Morris, with $8.5 billion of sales and 12,500 employees in Europe, has also claimed the regulation could result in up to 175,000 job losses and lost tax revenues of 5 billion euros ($6.8 billion) per year.

Leftists broadly favored the new regulations, joined by many conservatives concerned about the costs of smoking related diseases to national health care systems. The package was adopted in a 560 92 vote with 32 abstentions.

Associated Press

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The European Commission had proposed a warning to cover 75 percent of the package but health ministers agreed to 65 percent. Member states are free to implement a larger size.

Similar warnings would also extend to electronic cigarettes, herbal products for smoking, and any tobacco product that enters the market after the directive goes into force.

Labels such as &#x2018 natural&#x2019 or &#x2018 organic&#x2019 must also be removed.

Reilly described smoking as one of the &#x201C greatest, preventable, avoidable threats to people&#x2019 s health&#x201D .

The commission estimates some 700,000 people die from tobacco related illnesses every year in the EU with many others suffering from chronic illnesses. Costs to the health care systems hover around &#x20AC 25 billion.

&#x201C The economic arguments for not intervening can carry no weight&#x2026 it can never be a choice between jobs and lives,&#x201D said Reilly.

Reilly said the design of slim cigarette packages are geared to appeal to young people.

&#x201C We have to take every opportunity we can to make sure more people not become enslaved to this product,&#x201D he said.

He said more research is also needed to gauge the level of harm caused by electronic cigarettes because they contain nicotine.

&#x201C To promote it as a safe alternative, when we can&#x2019 t say that for certainty, is problematic for me,&#x201D he noted.

&#x201C I&#x2019 ll continue fighting until we do reach a stage where we have a tobacco free Europe,&#x201D he said.

The new rules should come into force in three to four years but must first make their way through the European Parliament&#x2019 s lead committee in July.

Formal negotiations with the parliament will start afterwards.

For his part, EU health commissioner Tonio Borg welcomed the decision, describing the ministerial discussions around the directive as &#x201C nail biting&#x201D .

The commission has said it wants to reduce the number of smokers by 2.4 million over the next five years.

&#x201C I think today we have done a first step, which is not the last step, but an important first step,&#x201D he said.