The European Parliament has voted to water down a proposed tobacco legislation, rejecting an immediate ban on menthol cigarettes and scaling down the size of health warnings on packets following intense lobbying by tobacco companies.
The 750-member parliament rejected proposals made by the EU member states and the European Commission on Tuesday, saying they were too harsh.
This is a shameful day for the European Parliament
While agreeing to further negotiations, the parliament said that it could not accept a ban on slim cigarettes, and would only implement a ban on menthol cigarettes in eight years' time, adding that health warnings should only cover 65 percent of packets.
European Union member states and the European Commission had proposed some of the world's toughest anti-tobacco laws, including graphic health warnings covering 75 percent of packets, an effort to deter young people from smoking.
It also said manufacturers should be free to sell smokeless e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine electronically and are a rapidly growing market, as a consumer product when not being marketed as an aide to help people quit smoking.
The vote means compromise negotiations will now take place among the parliament, EU member states and the Commission, with the aim of having the legislation, known as the Tobacco Products Directive, passed before May next year.
"This is a shameful day for the European Parliament," said Carl Schlyter, a member of the Green party from Sweden.
"(The) centre-right majority has done the bidding of the tobacco industry and voted for weaker rules."
Despite being a significant scaling back of the tobacco proposals, the move by parliament was not unexpected.
Internal Philip Morris documents leaked to the media and seen by Reuters news agency show that lobbyists held over 250 meetings with members of parliament to discuss the legislation, especially with members of the EPP and with conservatives from countries where cigarettes are manufactured.
The company said it was logical that it would lobby against a law that directly impacts its business.