In France, tobacconists have a state-imposed monopoly on tobacco products like cigarettes, and thanks to the surprising decision made by a court in Toulouse, they stand to take full control of the electronic cigarette market as well and put hundreds of specialized e-cig shops out of business.
It all started with a laughable complaint made by a tobacconist in Plaisance-du-Touch, a small town in southwestern France, against Esmokeclean, an e-cigarette shop that opened nearby. The tobacconist accused Esmokeclean of “unfair competition”, as it violated national health laws by advertising vaping products at the shop, on its online store and its Facebook page. The accusation’s main arguments were that electronic cigarettes “recall the act of smoking”, that they are supported by the world’s four major tobacco companies and that they are a smoking product which is advertised as such and which contains the word “cigarette” in its name. Therefore, they believed it should fall under the same regulations as other tobacco products.
The defense argued that e-cigarettes aren’t covered by any laws and that they didn’t even exist when the tobacco monopoly law was passed in 1991. Furthermore, they claimed e-cigs were just an everyday product, and not a tobacco product or a medicine, therefore they are not part of the legal restrictions on tobacco sales only through “tabac”shops.
Surprisingly, the commercial court in Toulouse ruled in favor of the plaintiff, explaining that despite containing no tobacco, e-cigarettes were substitute tobacco products, and should only be sold in registered tobacco shops. The decision was welcomed as exceptional news France’s 27,000 tobacconists, many of whom already sell electronic cigarettes, but want to be the only ones who do so. On the other hand, the lawyer for the defense denounced the ruling as “absurd and abhorrent”, and announced an appeal. That means the decision cannot be imposed yet, but unless the decision is overturned, it will most-likely put e-cigarettes in the hands of tobacconists. Taking advantage of this legal precedent, many other tobacconists will start lawsuits of their own and soon put hundreds of specialized e-cig shops out of business, leaving thousands of people unemployed. “This sets a precedent that says that the sale of all products for smoking is restricted to licensed tobacconists,” Bertrand Desarnauts, the accusation’s lawyer confirmed for France 24. “This ruling implies that other sellers of electronic cigarettes will no longer be able to sell them in stores or on the Internet.”
This is only the latest development in a massive witch hunt in France, one that began in June, with Health Minister, Marisol Touraine’s announcement that the government will apply the same restrictions to electronic cigarettes as it does to tobacco analogs.