tobacco products directive

Policy topic

The original Tobacco Products Directive (2001/37/EC), agreed beginning of June 2001, set maximum limits for tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarettes, required health warning to appear on tobacco products packages and banned misleading descriptions such as “light”, “mild” or “low tar”.

Since then there have been many market, scientific and international developments in the tobacco sector. For example new evidence has emerged on the effectiveness of health warnings and novel tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes have entered the market.

With this in mind in December 2012 the European Commission adopted a proposal to revise the Tobacco Products Directive. The main aim of the new directive is to make tobacco products less attractive and thus discourage young people from starting to smoke. On Tuesday 18 December 2012 MEPs and the Council of Ministers agreed on a series of changes to the Tobacco Products Directive:


All cigarettes and Roll Your Own (RYO) tobacco products will have combined picture and text health warnings covering 65% of the front and back of packaging. Member states that want to will be able to introduce plain packaging. In addition packs of fewer than 20 cigarettes will be banned.

Flavours and additives

Flavours such as menthol, fruit and vanilla in cigarettes and roll your own tobacco products will be banned (Mentholated products will be banned from 2020). This is to ensure that tobacco products taste and smell like tobacco products. 

In addition the European Commission will draw up a “priority list” of additives allowed in cigarettes and RYO tobacco products.

Electronic cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes will be subject to the same advertising restrictions as other tobacco products.

Electronic cigarettes should either be regulated as medicinal products, if they are presented as having curative or preventive products, or as tobacco products. If they are regulated as tobacco products they should not contain a nicotine concentration of more than 20mg/ml. In the UK the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has said that it will regulate electronic cigarettes as medicines.

Refillable cartridges will be allowed. However, if three member states ban refillable electronic cigarettes for justified health reasons then the Commission can extend the ban to all member states.

Combating illegal trade

An EU wide tracking and tracing system with security features (e.g. holograms) will be introduced to combat illegal trade.

Cross border sales

Member states can decide to ban cross border sales if they choose to.

Herbal products

There will be a stricter labelling and ingredients reporting requirements for herbal products.

The Directive was approved by the EU Parliament February 2014 and comes into force May 2014. Member States have two years to put the Directive into effect.

Policy documents