By Maria Gregoriou
THE appearance of cigarette packaging is poised to change in Cyprus after the European Parliament voted this week for health warnings to cover 65 per cent of a packet.
As part of a package of smoking-related proposals, the parliament also voted for menthol cigarettes to be banned in eight years’ time and rejected calls for e-cigarettes to be sold only on medicinal grounds, rather than being sold direct to consumers.
The vote was a watered-down version of new regulations proposed by the European Commission which had wanted graphic health warnings covering 75 per cent of a cigarette package, an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes and e-cigarettes being sold only on medicinal grounds.
The EP said these proposals were too harsh and its decision means that a compromise will have to be reached between the parliament, EU member states and the Commission before May next year.
As Cyprus has already agreed with the suggestions on the table, its position is clear, a sanitary official from the public health services said after the vote.
“We will be disappointed if the three parties who have to reach an agreement on the law do not find a common ground because this means that the legislation will not passed and the whole procedure will have to start from the start,” the official said.
At the moment picture images of damaged lungs or other physical damage due to smoking are not mandatory in every EU country. At present,
Cyprus only has a written warning on the pack so if the legislation is passed, then packs of cigarettes with shocking images of damage caused by smoking will be in every smoker’s hands.
Right now the law states that 30 per cent of the pack’s front and 40 per cent of the back should have a verbal warning.
In terms of the ban on menthol cigarettes, the main reasoning behind the commission’s concern is that their flavour and taste attracts young smokers as they are not as heavy as traditional cigarettes, making addiction easier.
Flavoured tobacco is popular in Cyprus particularly in the form of shisha.
Twenty-one year old, Angelos Georgiou says he does smoke shisha “because it has a nice feel to it and I don’t really feel like I am smoking.”
Asked whether this could lead to smoking traditional tobacco, Georgiou said he doubts it, but he could be tempted to try menthols because he has already tried flavoured smoking.
Andreas and Christina Andreou, a couple from Nicosia in their 30s both smoke menthols for the taste.
“We prefer the taste it leaves in our mouths. Normal cigarettes have a nasty after taste, it almost feels like you have eaten the cigarette rather than smoked it. We would rather quit smoking than swapping to normal cigarettes if we had no other choice,” the couple said.
For e-cigarette ‘smokers’, the European Commission’s push to limit their sale is harder to fathom.
The question arises as to why this product should be made so hard to obtain while other, more dangerous products which the e-cigarette was design to replace, is still widely available in the market.
“There are 4,000 chemicals in an original cigarette, one of these being arsenic. Electronic cigarettes eliminate these chemicals and only provide the body with nicotine, which the body is craving,” Managing Director of E-lites in Cyprus, Christian Everett said.
E-lites is a British manufacturer of electronic cigarettes.
He also added that research carried out by Boston and Alberta universities have found that electronic cigarettes are at least 99 per cent safer than normal tobacco cigarettes.
If e-cigarettes are sold as a medical product, he said, then its aim to reduce tobacco harm will suffer.
Although the common thought behind e-cigarettes is to help smokers quit, E-lites states that their product is not branded as such.
“It is an alternative to smoking traditional tobacco, so people can still enjoy the effects of smoking without the dangerous effects. What is more, in
Cyprus they are 50 per cent cheaper,” Everett said.
On a note about regulating tobacco, Everett did say that regulations are necessary because the public has to be aware about what they are inhaling “but I do not believe that any additional regulations should be put in place for a product that is 99 per cent less harmful.”
Once the legislation is approved by the Council and Parliament, EU member states will have 18 months in which to translate the directive into their national laws.