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Decision to Ban E-Cigarettes in Public Places Sparks Controversy in France

French Health Minister, Marisol Touraine, announced on Friday that her country will apply the same bans to electronic cigarettes as it does to tobacco analogs. Although she made it clear the measure does not equal an outright ban on e-cigarettes, members of the vaping community and medical experts were quick to criticize her decision.

“I have decided that the measures which apply to tobacco will also be extended to electronic cigarettes,” Touraine said during a press conference. “We have to set limits on this practice but nothing justifies an overall ban.” That means e-cig users will not allowed to vape in public places like bars, restaurants or offices anymore, and that their advertising and sale to under-18s will be banned. “This is no ordinary product because it encourages mimicking and could promote taking up smoking,” the Government official said, adding that an outright ban isn’t in order because in some cases these products do actually help smokers give up a habit responsible for 73,000 deaths per year. The announcement came as a breath of fresh air for struggling tobacco companies and Big Pharma, especially since the e-cigarette industry is expected to rake in 100 million euros in 2013, about the same as nicotine substitutes sold in pharmacies.

Scientists like Jean-François Etter, a professor of Public Health at the University of Geneva, criticized Marisol Touraine’s decision, saying that she chose to act with an excess of caution instead of facing the possibility of health risks associated with electronic cigarettes down the road. “The French minister was overly cautious, and her zeal is catastrophic,” Etter said. “The e-cigarette is an alternative that can save millions of lives. I don’t understand these disappointing declarations, which go against the welfare of the population.” Dr. William Lowenstein, addiction specialist and president of French association SOS Addictions, also spoke in favor of e-cigarettes. “There are none of the carcinogenic substances,” he told France 5 during an interview. “Replacing the cigarette is a way of breaking the addiction to this cancer-causing product.”

Another expert, Professor Robert Molimard, coordinator of the DIU of Tabacologie to the Faculty of Medicine Paris-South, also criticized the Health Minister’s decision and characterized it as the result of pressure from the pharmaceutical industry. “How can you not wonder when most of the experts in the report by the French Office for Tobacco Prevention [which says we don’t know enough about e-cigarettes to be sure about their effects], including Bertrand Dautzenberg, Béatrice Le Maître, and Gérard Mathern, say in the report that they have links or even contracts with pharmaceutical groups,” Molimard said. “Obviously there’s a conflict of interest.” He is convinced that as the European Union is getting ready to adopt rules on the use of e-cigarettes, pharma lobbyists are doing everything in their power to take out the competition.

And apparently they are not the only ones. According to an article in French weekly Le Journal de Dimanche (JDD), cited by Le Local, tobacco giant British American Tobacco (BAT) treated several French deputies and one senator to frogs’ legs, veal, top-notch Bourgougne wine and Cuban cigars at the Chez Francoise restaurant in Paris last Wednesday. Hosted by BAT France President Soraya Zoueihid, the meal added up to a bill of around €10,000. Galdéric Sabatier, third in command at the customs administration, which fixes tobacco prices in France, was also present at this expensive culinary meeting. The BAT boss allegedly discussed “the need to have balanced and coherent [tobacco] regulations” with deputies which were soon to vote on the bill which would ban the use of electronic cigarettes in public. JDD claims the invite from British American Tobacco contradicted an anti-tobacco initiative from the World Health Organization (WHO), signed by several countries, including France. The accord stipulates that “the state must guard against politicians being influenced by the interests of the tobacco industry”. A BAT official was not available for comment on this issue…

Despite the numerous allegations regarding the real reason behind France’s decision to ban e-cigarettes in public places, one thing is for sure – French vapers will soon have to abide by the same rules as tobacco smokers. And judging by the way things stand now, other European countries are bound to follow suit on the issue of electronic cigarettes…

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