Euro MPs will vote shortly on new measures aimed at putting young people off smoking, including bigger health warnings on cigarette packets and restrictions on electronic cigarettes.
Under the draft legislation from the European Commission e-cigarettes would become a medicinal product.
Menthol cigarettes could be banned, along with other flavoured tobacco.
Cheaper packs of 10 as well as slim cigarettes – marketed mainly to women – would no longer be sold.
It is the European Parliament’s first reading of a draft tobacco directive which could become law in 2014. There has been intense lobbying of
MEPs by the tobacco industry and health campaigners.
The proposals also include a ban on words like “light”, “mild” and “low tar”, deemed to be misleading, and a ban on chewing tobacco – called snus – although Sweden will retain its exemption.
The UK has already said e-cigarettes will be licensed as medicine from 2016.
Sales of the tobacco-free devices have boomed worldwide since bans on smoking in public places were introduced.
But campaigners say their growing popularity is dangerous.
They argue that e-cigarettes undermine years of anti-smoking efforts and could be especially damaging to children and non-smokers.
The devices are designed to replicate smoking behaviour without the use of tobacco. They turn nicotine and other chemicals into a vapour that is inhaled.
Manufacturers of e-cigarettes say the products have the potential to save millions of lives and should not be restricted because they could dramatically reduce smoking-related diseases.
Anti-smoking campaigners say young people especially are being tricked into taking up smoking.
“Tobacco products should look and taste like tobacco products,” said EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg, presenting the proposals.
The current requirement for health warnings on packets is 30% minimum coverage on one side and 40% on the other.
The new packaging requirements would also apply to roll-your-own tobacco.
The legislation would allow member states the option of plain, non-branded packaging “in duly justified cases”.
The Commission says packets must be big enough to ensure full visibility for the health warnings, so the recommendation is at least 20 cigarettes per pack.
E-cigarettes run on a rechargeable battery and turn nicotine and other chemicals into an inhalable vapour.
Fourteen EU states already have 20 as the minimum, four stipulate a minimum of 19, and in the UK and Italy the minimum is 10. It is argued that bigger, more expensive packets are less attractive to young smokers.
The Commission says almost 700,000 Europeans die from smoking-related illnesses each year – equal to the population of Frankfurt or Palermo. The associated costs for healthcare in the EU are estimated to be at least 25.3bn euros (£20.6bn; $33.4bn) annually.
In 2009‐10, sales of tobacco products generated nearly £9bn ($14.6bn; 11bn euros) in taxes for the UK government, about 2% of all receipts from taxation, a government report said.