Electronic cigarettes scored a major victory in October, when the European Parliament voted against tight medical regulations, but the war is still ongoing. According to a leaked document, the EU Commission is trying to ban almost all available e-cigarette models and e-liquids containing over 20 mg. of nicotine per ml. of vapor.
The debate about how to regulate electronic cigarettes seems to be the only thing preventing Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and member states from reaching an agreement on the new tobacco directive, according to European Voice. Negotiators from the EU Parliament and the Council of Ministers are set to meet in Brussels this week to decide on whether to apply light regulations to e-cigs because of their potential to help millions of smokers quit, or whether heavy regulations are in order, to prevent health-related issues. This dilemma may seem hard to overcome at first glance, but considering millions are dying of smoking-related conditions every year, it seems stupid to ban access to a device that has proven its efficiency on the presumption that it might not be completely safe. It’s true that we have no long-term research on the effects of e-cigarettes on the human body, but all the short-term studies suggest they are up to 99% safer than tobacco cigarettes.
But neither the abundance of scientific evidence nor the pleas of respected physicians not to restrict users’ access to a smoking alternative that might just save their lives seems to be enough for European legislators. A leaked confidential document drafted by the European Commission has revealed its plans to overturn the European Parliament’s decision to reject banning e-cigarettes in their current form. According to the negotiating draft circulating among Brussels officials, the Commission is worried about the “risk that electronic cigarettes can develop into a gateway to normal cigarettes”. Although they contain no tobacco, EU officials believe electronic cigarettes “normalize the act of smoking” and should therefore be included in the new tobacco directive. “Electronic cigarettes are a tobacco related product and should be regulated within this directive. They simulate smoking behavior and are increasingly used and marketed to young people and non-smokers,” the document reads. This kind of mumbo-jumbo, unsubstantiated claims have been used by e-cigarette opponents in the past, but this time the stakes are higher than ever, and their efforts to have e-cigs banned could affect the lives of millions.
So what is the EU Commission proposing, you ask? Oh well, nothing major, just the complete ban of all electronic cigarettes with refillable cartridges or tanks, of those which produce levels of nicotine above 20 mg per ml of vapor or 10 mg per unit, and those designed to taste like tobacco. The ban would come into effect by 2017. You would have to agree that the e-cigs describe in the Commission’s document include the vast majority of e-cigs available on the market today. As for what would be considered acceptable under these conditions – “only flavors which are authorized for use in nicotine replacement therapies can be used in electronic cigarettes, unless such a flavor is particularly attractive to young people and non-smokers,” the documents states.
The leaked document drafted by the EU Commission is basically trying to sneak medical regulation by the back door, something that e-cigarette suppliers and users will not stand for. When the issue was voted on by MEPs, their protests played an instrumental role in the rejection of medical regulation, and we are likely to see this kind of reaction once more. “Forcing e-cigarettes off the shelves would be crazy,” Martin Callanan, a Conservative MEP, said. “It would remove a valuable support for people desperate to stop smoking and thus could potentially lead to needless deaths. The commission failed to get their way in their first attempt to put the squeeze on e-cigarettes. This attempt is not acceptable either.”
Last week, a group of researchers and academics sent a letter to all Members of the European Parliament, warning against the Commission’s suggestions by arguing that it would eliminate electronic cigarettes as a smoking cessation device. “Regulating e-cigarettes in such a quasi-medicines framework would – perversely – make it easier to make and market tobacco cigarettes than the much safer e-cigarettes,” the letter said.