This deal will make tobacco packages less attractive so fewer people start smoking, in particular young people who have been heavily targeted by the tobacco industry in recent years. Crucially, the compromise will ensure that Nicotine Containing Products (NCPs) - including electronic cigarettes (2) - are safe but remain accessible to smokers who want to switch to a safer product.

The deal approved today strengthens the current European regulation on tobacco in several ways. Among other measures, it increases the size of the pictorial warnings in packages and bans flavoured cigarettes and features on packaging that play down the health risks of smoking (3). EU member states will also retain the possibility to adopt more stringent measures to regulate tobacco products, such as plain packaging.

Around 700,000 people die every year in Europe from tobacco-related diseases. In addition, close to 13 million people suffer from smoking-related diseases in the EU (4), with devastating effects not only on societies and healthcare systems, but also economically as the estimated annual cost of tobacco to the European economy is of more than half a trillion euros, or about 4.6% of EU GDP (5).

“Europe pays a hefty price for tobacco, both in economic costs and harm to its people’s health and well-being. Today’s decision brings people living in Europe one step closer to tobacco regulation that is fit for purpose and able to protect us from misleading marketing, said Monika Kosińska, Secretary General of the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA).

The deal supported today by the European Council regulates e-cigarettes (6). "There is emerging evidence (7) that vaping –the act of inhaling vapour generated by e-cigarettes- is significantly less harmful that tobacco smoking and so is being used by people to stop smoking. Although further research is needed, the potential of e-cigarettes to significantly decrease the massive human toll of smoking cannot be overlooked”, said Ms Kosińska.

The deal supported today by the European Council enables the European Commission to prohibit individual unsealed rechargeable e-cigarettes if at least three EU member states initiate a ban due to evidence of safety concerns.

The public health community has been waiting with an increasing sense of urgency for updated EU tobacco rules for more than three years. The tobacco regulation supported today by the European Council is a victory against the tobacco industry and its intense lobbying to prevent high levels of health protection at European level, concluded Ms Kosińska.

The European Parliament will now have to endorse the agreement. EPHA calls on the European assembly to do so without delay and ensure this is completed before the end of its mandate in 2014.

- Notes to editors

(1) Council approves compromise on tobacco directive, Council of the European Union.

(2) [EPHA Briefing] Regulation of Nicotine Containing Products (NCPs) including electronic cigarettes.

(3) New and tough EU standards on tobacco products to protect youth, EPP Group in the European Parliament.

(4) Besides being one the largest preventable cause of death and disease in Europe, the European Coalition for Vision (ECV) has recently issued a statement regarding the damaging effects of smoking on eye health, and the link between nicotine and blindness.

(5) A study on liability and the health costs of smoking, DG SANCO (2008/C6/046).

(6) [EPHA explainer] Lost in co-decision? A case study on the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) & e-cigarettes.

(7) Electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation: a randomised controlled trial, The Lancet 16 November 2013.

- Contact information

Javier Delgado Rivera, EPHA Communications Coordinator at j.delgado-rivera@epha.org or +32 (0) 2 233 38 76.

Last modified on March 14 2014.