2 OCTOBER 2002
reporting from Brussels
New tough rules on the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products in the European Union that took effect on Monday will have to be adhered to in Malta if it joins the European Union in 2004.
The news comes as a breath of fresh air for Maltese non-smokers, since the directive will impose reductions on the harmful elements of most cigarette brands.
The new rules are aimed at reforming labelling rules for such products, doing away with terms such as mild and light on certain products as well as imposing thresholds on the maximum amounts of tar, carbon monoxide and nicotine in cigarettes. The new legislation puts the EU in a leading position world-wide on tobacco control and ensures the same standard of protection in all member states.
The regulations will come into effect gradually. The rule that will start applying from Monday is that tobacco products will need to carry a general warning covering not less than 30 per cent of the surface with the text Smoking kills/Smoking can kill or Smoking seriously harms you and others around you. An additional warning covering not less than 40 per cent of the surface is also being imposed. A transitional period for products not complying with these health warnings is foreseen until September 30, 2003.
Among the rules that will come into effect at a later stage include a ban on texts, names, trademarks and figurative or other signs suggesting that a particular tobacco product is less harmful than others. From January 1, 2004, the yield of cigarettes released for free circulation, marketed or manufactured in the EU will be limited to a maximum amount of 10 mg per cigarette for tar; 1 mg per cigarette for nicotine and 10 mg per cigarette for carbon monoxide.
The Commission, however, also plans to revise these limits gradually according to any new scientific and technological developments to the member states.
Three of the more popular cigarette brands in Malta do not stand far from the limits set by the Commission. The red Rothmans King Size Special Mild cigarettes contain a tar level of 9 mg and a nicotine level of 0.9 mg - just below the Commissions maximum thresholds. The blue Rothmans King Size Filter Tipped cigarettes are above or just meet the Commissions maximum level with 11 mg per cigarette of tar and 1 mg of nicotine. Silk Cut, on the other hand are already way below the Commissions levels with 7 mg of tar and 0.7 mg of nicotine. Other brands available in Malta, however, have much higher levels.
What is certain at this point is that Malta will have to apply all these new rules if and once it joins the European Union on January 1, 2004 since no derogation was requested by Malta in this regard.
Replying to a question, Directorate-General Press and Communication spokesperson for Health and Consumer Protection, Beate Gminder, confirmed that this directive will apply for the new member states immediately upon accession.