By Claire Davenport
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Cigarette packs should carry stark health warnings but the EU does not have to adopt the plain wrappers favored by Australia and, more recently, Ireland, an EU committee said on Wednesday.
The EU's executive, the European Commission, wants to make smoking less attractive to young people who it feels are susceptible to the allure of colorful cigarette packets and novelty flavors.
The European Parliament's health committee backed the Commission's proposals for much larger health warnings on packets than at present, but stopped short of a mandatory ban on tobacco company branding as in Australia, which some lawmakers had wanted.
"The important thing is to turn young people off smoking. We do not need plain packaging to do that," Karl Heinz Florenz, a German centre-right member of the committee said.
The committee supported the Commission's proposals that those EU countries that want to impose so-called plain packaging - such as Ireland - should be free to do so.
In May, Ireland became the first European country to agree a ban on all company branding in favor of uniform colors and labeling, following the example set by Australia.
The lawmakers said graphic pictorial and written health warnings should cover 75 percent of the front and back of cigarette packets. Companies may fill the remainder of the pack with their logo.
However the size of the warnings could still be reduced before the rules are jointly finalized by EU countries and the full parliament.
Last month, a majority of EU member states agreed that the warnings should cover just 65 percent of packets, while some members parliament have called for warnings as small as 50 percent. Florenz predicts that the parliament and governments will eventually settle for a compromise of 60 percent.
The committee also backed a ban on distinctive flavorings such as menthol, which most EU countries support. But governments oppose another Commission proposal backed by the committee to ban slim cigarettes, popular among female smokers.
A vote by the full European parliament is expected before the end of this year, and the rules could be finalized during the first half of next year.
(Editing by Charlie Dunmore and Michael Roddy)