Directorate General Health & Consumers
The use of warning messages is mandatory on all tobacco products. Each unit packet of tobacco products intended to be smoked must carry both a general health warning ("Smoking Kills/Smoking can kill" or "Smoking seriously harms you and others around you") - covering at least a surface of 30-35% on the front - and one of the fourteen additional warnings set out in Annex I of the Directive covering at least a surface of 40-50% on the back. Available evidence suggests that textual warnings have an impact on smokers' attitudes and behaviours. In order to remain effective and up-to-date, such warnings need to be updated regularly. The legislation in force therefore foresees periodic updates.
In March 2012, following the results of a qualitative Eurobarometer and discussions with Member States, the Commission adopted Directive 2012/9/EU proposing 14 revised text warnings for use on tobacco packaging. For example, new scientific evidence shows that tobacco use plays a causal role in mouth and throat cancer, visual impairments as well as dental and gum disease. Parental smoking also acts as an incentive for children's smoking. The text warnings have been updated in this sense. Member States have to introduce these new warnings by March 2016.
The Tobacco Products Directive makes it possible for Member States to combine text warnings with graphic images in the form of colour photographs and other illustrations. They reinforce and amplify the written messages. In September 2003, the Commission adopted rules for the use of pictorial warnings (Decision 2003/641/EC) and in May 2005 a library of 42 pictures (C(2005) 1452 final). The library includes three images for each of the additional health warnings. Evidence from countries where pictorial warnings have already been introduced shows that images have a greater impact than text warnings alone.
Following the adoption of the new text warnings, the library of existing picture warnings needs to be aligned and this process is currently ongoing.
For more information:
Commission Directive 2012/9/EU amending Annex I to Directive 2001/37/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the approximation of the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the Member States concerning the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco products.
Commission Directive 2014/39/EU of 12 March 2014 amending Directive 2012/9/EU as regards the date for its transposition and the deadline for the end of the transitional period.
Commission Decision 2003/641/EC of 5 September 2003 on the use of colour photographs or other illustrations as health warnings on tobacco packages
Tobacco packaging health warning labels . Qualitative Eurobarometer study investigating a second generation of tobacco packaging health warnings. 7 March 2012
Health warnings library: