The European Union plans to ban menthol cigarettes and force tobacco firms to print large health warnings covering 75% of packaging.
This in proposals released on Wednesday, the first for more than a decade.
The proposed new rules on labelling, ingredients and smokeless products, fall short of demands by some health campaigners for a total ban on company branding and logos on packets, along the lines of measures enforced this month in Australia.
But "member states remain free to introduce plain packaging in duly justified cases," a European Commission statement said.
"Tobacco kills half of its users and is highly addictive," said Health Commissioner Tonio Borg. "With 70% of smokers starting before the age of 18, the ambition of today's proposal is to make tobacco products and smoking less attractive and thus discourage tobacco initiation among young people."
Almost 700 000 Europeans die from tobacco-related illnesses each year – equal to the population of Frankfurt or Palermo – with associated health costs running at more than €25-billion euros.
A key measure will be a ban on cigarettes, roll-your-own or smokeless tobacco products that have strong or "characterising" flavours – such as menthol, chocolate or vanilla. These flavours are often popular with young people.
"Tobacco products should look and taste like tobacco products," Borg said. "This proposal ensures that attractive packaging and flavourings are not used as a marketing strategy."
The new rules must be approved by member states as well as the European Parliament, with Borg saying he hoped to see the legislation adopted in 2014, meaning it would come into effect in about three years.
Packs of less than 20 cigarettes will also be banned as well as 'slims', while electronic cigarettes, which contain some nicotine, will only be authorised as medicinal products. – Sapa-AFP