16 EU health ministers, including Minister for Health James Reilly, have called on MEPs to agree to quickly enter into talks on introducing tighter tobacco controls at their meeting in Strasbourg next week.

Irish officials in Brussels have warned that if MEPs don't agree on a mandate for talks it would be a "significant victory for the tobacco industry, but a negative development for human health".

Earlier this year under the Irish EU Presidency, health ministers agreed on a general approach on additional tobacco controls which included raising the size of the health warning on tobacco packaging to 65%.

Irish officials said this legislation would be in 'serious serious trouble' if MEPs didn't agree on a mandate for discussions, as it was unlikely the measures could be passed before European Parliament elections next May.

In their joint statement this afternoon, the 16 said tobacco remains the single largest cause of avoidable illness in the EU causing the deaths of an estimated 700,000 citizens each year.

They expressed particular concern about the number of children and young people who continue to be attracted to tobacco products - something the new regulations aim to tackle: for example by banning flavoured cigarettes.

Irish officials in Brussels said the level of lobbying by the tobacco industry against the proposals exceeded “any campaign in recent years”.

It's understood that Mr Reilly has been calling MEPs to secure their support for the measures, particularly politicians in the European People's Party - the centre-right political grouping which Fine Gael is a member of.

However the EPP appears to be split on the issue, with some MEPs wanting any health warning to be only 50% on any box.

Another grouping, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe - which Fianna Fáil MEPs are a member of - is also divided on the issue of e-cigarettes being catagorised as 'medicinal products' and therefore coming under much heavier regulation and scrutiny.

Both the debate and vote on greater tobacco controls will take place in the European Parliament next Tuesday.