Martin Borne, co-founder of electronic cigarette retailer Demain J’arrete, exhales vapour from one of his creations in Paris on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Strasbourg (France), Oct. 8: In a decision likely to resonate in the US and other countries struggling to get a grip on a galloping market for e-cigarettes, the European Parliament today scrapped health officials’ proposals that the nicotine-delivery devices be tightly regulated as medical devices.
Instead, lawmakers endorsed a more permissive approach to their sale and use, although the products could not be sold to anyone younger than 18.
As expected, the parliament also voted to approve measures adopted earlier this year by EU officials, banning conventional cigarettes with menthol flavoring and requiring cigarette packs to carry health warnings in pictures and text covering 65 per cent of the packages, up from 40 per cent. But parliament did vote to delay the menthol ban, voting that it should come into force in eight years instead of three.
The electronic cigarette measure, though, was the one most widely watched.
The use of e-cigarettes, primarily by smokers looking for a way to kick their tobacco habit, has skyrocketed in Europe and the US, with sales growing so fast that some Wall Street analysts predict the battery-powered devices could surpass cigarettes within a decade. But the products and their use have quickly outrun any rules on either side of the Atlantic for regulating them.
Europe’s new rules for e-cigarettes, contained in a draft law known as the Tobacco Products Directive, fill a legal vacuum around a product whose explosive growth has left regulators and health officials struggling to catch up.
Some governments in Europe have tried to rigidly regulate and even ban e-cigarettes, but this has led to a flurry of often-successful court actions by e-cigarette companies determined to defend their products. In the US, too, efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to devise e-cigarette rules have been tied up by industry opposition.
Although today’s vote is not the end of the rule-making process for e-cigarettes in Europe, experts say the finish line is now in sight.
The industry is dominated by small operators that import lithium batteries, raw nicotine fluid and other materials from low-cost production centers like China. Instead of smoke from burning tobacco, users ingest the nicotine in the form of vapours from the heated fluid — an alternative to smoking commonly referred to as vaping.
The advent of vaping has removed some of the stigma of tobacco use, and in some cases people can use e-cigarettes in places where smoking is prohibited. The EU legislation, however, does not address the issue of where vaping is permitted, leaving that to national and local jurisdictions.
These companies, supported by growing legions of e-cigarette users, had lobbied hard against medicinal regulation and today welcomed the European Parliament vote as a victory for good health and good sense.
But while exempting e-cigarettes from an onerous and potentially costly certification process required for drugs, an amendment to the Tobacco Products Directive approved by parliamentarians imposes tight restrictions on advertising and sponsorship. In these areas, e-cigarettes face the same restraints as regular cigarettes, including the ban on sales to young people.
These restrictions helped calm concerns among some in the 600-member parliament that, while perhaps helping older smokers kick their habit, e-cigarettes will introduce young Europeans to highly addictive nicotine.
Speaking in a debate before the vote, a parliamentarian from Sweden warned that “these e-cigarettes are not a path to giving up smoking but a gateway to starting smoking”.