New tobacco directive turns blind eye on e-cigarettes

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The EU's Tobacco Products Directive, agreed on Wednesday (18 December), leaves national authorities to decide whether refillable e-cigarettes should be considered as tobacco products or medicine.

The new directive seeks to regulate products that look and taste like tobacco with the aim of discouraging young people from taking up smoking in the first place.

But disagreement over e-cigarettes threatened to derail the talks between the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers, concluded on Monday evening.

The compromise stipulates that e-cigarettes will be considered like regular tobacco products if they contain nicotine in a concentration of more than 20 mg/ml.

However, individual member states can regulate e-cigarettes as medicines, if they are presented as having curative or preventive properties.

Refillable e-cigarettes will not be banned, but member states can ban specific types of cartridges for e-cigarettes, if they can justify the ban by safety concerns.

Furthermore, if at least three member states adopt a ban on a specific cartridge, the European Commission will be able to impose an EU-wide ban unilaterally, without seeking approval by Parliament or the member states.

The new directive also includes a ban on 'flavoured' cigarettes, like those containing menthol, and requests manufacturers to display large health warnings - picture and text - covering 65% of the front and the back of packages.

The compromise still has to be approved by EU member states and the European Parliament.

Positions: 

EU Health Commissioner Tonio Borg said the agreement on e-cigarettes will put in place "clear safety and quality standards for a growing sector of the market", and promised the the Commission will "closely monitor developments and trends in this emerging market".

Françoise Grossetête, a French centre-right MEP (European People's Party), said she was "disappointed" by the agreement on e-cigarettes. "I am disappointed because we had a valuable opportunity to align their status and it is clear that the agreement refuses to settle the issue," she said in a statement.

"The ball is back in the camp of the Member States who will be able to continue assimilating e-cigarettes to a medicine while others will continue to consider them as a tobacco product. It would have been useful to agree to harmonise e-cigarettes across the EU with clear rules. Today's agreement leaves the door open to diverging national legislation and does not provide legal certainty."

"Replacing traditional cigarettes with electronic cigarettes represents a benefit to health. However, the e-cigarette should be better regulated, as demanded by the European Parliament."

Timeline: 
  • March 2014: Final Parliament vote
  • 2014: The EU's tobacco directive set to come into effect
External links: 
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Comments

Neal Asher's picture

"Replacing traditional cigarettes with electronic cigarettes represents a benefit to health. However, the e-cigarette should be better regulated, as demanded by the European Parliament."

Your better regulation will result in ecigs ceasing to be a benefit to health. They won't be strong enough to enable people to quit tobacco cigarettes. Thereafter the black market will supply stronger and completely unregulated e-liquids. Congratulations on your attempt to destroy a public health revolution akin to the Polio vaccine.

Mike Barton's picture

This information held in this article is incorrect.

It states " The compromise stipulates that e-cigarettes will be considered like regular tobacco products if they contain nicotine in a concentration of more than 20 mg/ml."

In actual fact it states only Ecigarettes of 20mg/ml and below will be allowed on the market and will be treated like tobacco but with more severe restraints on the ability to speak about them. In actual fact the proposal directly denies the freedom of speech on them in as much as all forms of communication whether public or private, industry led or consumer led will be prohibited by law if it speaks favourably about them.

Qoute

5. Member States shall ensure that:

a) commercial communications with the aim or direct or indirect effect of promoting electronic cigarettes and refill containers are prohibited in information society services as defined in Article 1(2) of Directive 98/48/EC, in the press and other printed publications, with the exception of publications that are intended exclusively for professionals in the trade of the products and for publications which are printed and published in third countries, where those publications are not principally intended for the European Union market;

b) commercial communications with the aim or direct or indirect effect of promoting electronic cigarettes and refill containers are prohibited in the radio;

c) any form of public or private contribution to radio programmes with the aim or direct or indirect effect of promoting electronic cigarettes and refill containers is prohibited;

d) any form of public or private contribution to any event, activity or individual with the aim or direct or indirect effect of promoting electronic cigarettes and refill containers and involving or taking place in several Member States or otherwise having cross-border effects is prohibited;

e) audiovisual commercial communications falling under Directive 2010/13/EU are prohibited for electronic cigarettes and refill containers;

f) cross-border distance sales of electronic cigarettes and refill containers are regulated in accordance with Article 16.

Unqoute

In allowing freedom of speech on virtually every substance, political opinion and activity known to man, we are able to promote democracy, freedom and equal rights to all.

By denying that right to anyone who uses or advocates using Electronic cigarettes; which have not harmed a single human being and are regarded by many public health advocates as a potential public health game changer; the EU is denying the human rights of millions of European citizens.

Anyone who supports this is selling human rights to freedom of speech down the river.

Peter's picture

The contents of this article are extremely misleading. The idea the five pages of new regulation constitutes 'turning a blind eye' is a complete misrepresentation of what has been agreed. Products not considered medicines will be subject to a vast array of tests and in theory Member States are still free to regulate them as a medicine 'by function'.

The result is a lot of worried small business owners who have no legal certainty; and angry consumers who just three months ago believed that their views mattered to the EU institutions after MEPs took their worries to heart.

Brussels owes them an explanation as to why Council and Commission ignored their views during a closed and opaque process.