They used World No Tobacco Day to mount a new offensive at the European Parliament in Brussels, warning against the seductive promotion of cigarettes – including the packaging itself.
Instead they want graphic depictions of diseased organs to accompany prominent written warnings that smoking kills.
The call came after last week’s pledge from the EU’s new Consumer Health Commissioner John Dalli of legislation soon to tighten up existing anti-smoking rules.
“Today’s World No Tobacco Day is a good opportunity to remind Europeans what tobacco consumption means for their health and lives,” Mr Dalli said this afternoon.
Free Partnership (SFP) told a conference in the European Parliament that it wants compulsory picture warnings – showing diseased organs – and standardized packaging of cigarettes across the EU.
“The tobacco industry uses multimillion-dollar promotional campaigns, including carefully crafted package designs, to trap new users, especially young women,” said SFP director Florence Berteletti.
She said Mr Dalli’s review of the Tobacco Products Directive was a chance to introduce compulsory and graphic warnings and standardized packaging in the EU.
The SFP, an independent grouping of the European Respiratory Society, Cancer Research UK and the European Heart Network, said health warnings on cigarette packets, including dramatic pictures, can motivate smokers to quit, as well as reducing the appeal of tobacco for those not yet addicted.
But only six out of 27 EU countries have introduced warnings with pictures on tobacco packs.
France recently became the sixth by announcing it will do so from 2012, joining Belgium (2006), Romania (2008), the UK (2008), Latvia (2010) and Malta (2011).
The SFP describes smoking, which kills more than five million people a year worldwide, as “the only legal consumer product that kills half of all long-term users when used exactly as intended by the manufacturer”.
Last week the European Commission launched a €16m anti-tobacco campaign targeting the young after a survey showed that 35% of 15-24 year-olds are smokers.
The new campaign involves anti-smoking messages targeting television, the internet and other sites accessible via mobile phones.
The commission has said it wants a “smoke-free Europe” by 2012.
Current EU legislation stipulates limits on the nicotine and tar content of cigarettes, written warnings on packets and a ban on misleading descriptions of cigarette strengths, such as “light”.
So far a dozen EU countries have introduced total bans on smoking in enclosed public places and work places, including bars and restaurants. They are Ireland, the UK, Cyprus, Italy, Malta, Sweden, Latvia, Finland, Slovenia, France, Lithuania and the Netherlands.