Pictorial Health Warnings (PHW) could be increased to cover 75% of both the front and back of cigarette and rolling tobacco packets, under new EU draft proposals.

In a move that would render the UK government’s plans for plain packaging even more unwarranted, the new health warnings could also be added to the sides of cigarette packets.

Text warnings currenly feature on 30% of the front of packs, with pictorial warnings on 40% of the back.

Other measures included in the EU’s proposed revisions to the Tobacco Products Directive include restrictions on certain ingredients and flavourings such as vanilla. Information on tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide would also be removed, and replaced by an information message that tobacco smoke contains more than 70 cancer causing substances.

Nicotine-containing electronic cigarettes could also be required to display health warnings, and the permitted nicotine content could be restricted.

With 11 years having passed since the last revision to the Tobacco Products Directive, further change was now urgently needed, said Tonio Borg, EU commissioner for Health and consumer policy.

“Over recent years, new products, such as electronic cigarettes, have entered the market. More ‘attractive’ cigarette packages can now be bought and smoking has been made more attractive with the use of strong flavours, for example vanilla or strawberry.

“Secondly, scientific knowledge has advanced. Studies show for example that large picture warnings work better than small text warnings. As a consequence, the legislation needs to be adapted to the latest scientific evidence.”

Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) chief executive James Lowman said the “sweeping new restrictions” would place new burdens on UK retailers.

“Changes to product packaging rules, as well as new restrictions on products such as e-cigarettes, will mean complicated transitional and sell-through periods for retailers,” he said.

“We will be urging UK MEPs and ministers to focus on ensuring that this revised Directive is brought in a way that minimises the harm to retailers.”

The ACS is also calling on UK ministers to scrap plain packaging plans in the face of these new proposals.

“If ministers are seriously committed to business-friendly regulation they will not press ahead with plans for standardised tobacco packaging in the UK,” Lowman added.

The revisions to the Tobacco Products Directive will now be considered by the EU Parliament and Council of Ministers as part of the co-decision procedures. It is expected to be adopted in 2014, and could come into effect from 2015-2016.