Chocolate, menthol, strawberry - novelty flavourings make cigarettes sound more like snacks than a way to tarmac your lungs with nicotine. Tobacco companies are very well aware that in the EU 94% of smokers picked up the habit before they turned 25, so they design products to appeal to the young as much as possible. It's not just about adding flavours, but also about designing packets to look like must-have items. Although fewer adults smoke now, there are disturbing signs that the focus on youth marketing is working, which is why the EU is now drafting tougher rules for tobacco products.
With 29% of 15 to 25-year-olds smoking, the percentage of young people lighting up outstrips that of the general population (which dropped from nearly 40% in 2002 to 28% in 2012). Also the World Health Organization has found that in many of the countries surveyed smoking by youngsters has gone up. Nearly one in five (18.5%) 15-year-olds reaches for the cancer sticks at least once a week.
To stem the flow of budding nicotine addicts, the European Parliament's public health committee is backing tougher rules for tobacco products under a planned update of the European tobacco product directive. This includes banning novelty flavourings such as chocolate, fruit and menthol as well as additives such as vitamins. Committee members also support taking out misleading statements that could suggest the product could be healthy or less harmful as well as slim cigarettes and lipstick and perfume style cigarettes packets. The idea is to ensure tobacco products look and taste like tobacco. More emphasis should also be given to health warnings by letting them cover at least 75% of the front and the back of a packet.
E-cigarettes, which can help people to stop smoking, are also part of the proposed revision. Although they should only be placed on the market under existing rules on medicinal products, member states should make sure they are also available outside pharmacies, according to the public health committee.
The revised legislation can only enter force once it has been approved by the Council as well as by a majority of MEPs during a plenary session, due to take place in Strasbourg this autumn.
These new rules should help to stub out smoking among young people, but leaves the freedom to choose intact. People will still be able to opt for tobacco products, but they will do so because they like them for what they are and not because of misleading claims, flavourings or packaging.
Photo copyright David Hegarty (made available under Creative Commons license)