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The EU Has Spoken: “Vive Les Cigarettes Electroniques!”

A Standard Cigarette.      source

The European Parliament recently rejected a proposal made by the European Commission regarding the increasingly popular, electronic cigarette. The proposal would have classified e-cigarettes as a medicinal product; therefore, the sale of all electronic cigarettes, under EU law, would have had to be regulated and controlled by the health department of every member state. The proposal generated a certain level of controversy, with many health experts calling it a failed opportunity.

Electronic cigarettes have become an increasingly common sight in everyday life. The light, portable devices generate nicotine filled water vapour which when inhaled offer the same effects as tobacco. Many have attributed their success to the fact that they can be smoked indoors, and seemingly do not inflict the same damage as their tobacco filled counterparts. There are estimated to be 1.5 million users of the ‘e-cig’ in France alone. However many health experts have warned that the electronic substitute should not be hailed as the ideal substitute to cigarettes. A 2009 FDA analysis of e-cigarettes found that the samples contained carcinogens and other hazardous chemicals, including di-ethylene glycol, which is found in antifreeze. They consider that even though the vapour is not as harmful as the cigarette smoke they replicate, the chemical composure of the vapour is not harmless. According to Medical News Today using e-cigarettes increases breathing difficulty in both smokers and non-smokers. Nicotine is still present in the vapour; therefore the addiction to smoking is still present. There is also the argument that the e cigarette will inspire a new young generation of smokers, who see the electronic cigarette as a harmless alternative to smoking, but who risk eventually becoming tobacco smokers.

Users of the e-cigarette, however, are celebrating the parliaments decision. They believe that e-cigarettes are still a viable tool in the combat to quit tobacco. A dozen or so protesters of the measure camped outside the parliament holding banners which read: “TOUCHE PAS A MA VAPOTE!” (“Don’t touch my e cigarette!”)  and “E-CIG: NI MEDICAMENT, NI PRODUIT DE TABAC” which when translated, protests that the e cigarette is “neither medicine or tobacco”. Chris Davies, a Liberal Democrat MEP, hailed the result, speaking to the independent he said, “E-cigs can be a game changer. Hundreds of former smokers have written to tell me that they have helped them give up cigarettes when nothing else worked. They are successful because they are not medicines but products that smokers enjoy using as an alternative to cigarettes.”


A smoker's map of the world. Source

A smoker’s map of the world.

The Parliament also passed a series of anti tobacco legislation as the war against tobacco continues. Legislation includes putting mandatory warnings that cover 65% of all tobacco packaging. Menthol cigarettes will also be phased out within the next 8 years. However this is considered as moderate compared to what could have been achieved. Original plans would have called for packaging to be covered by 75%, while menthol cigarettes were supposed to be phased out within 3 years not 8. Proposals to have had slim cigarettes abolished also failed to be passed by the Parliament. Eyebrows will be raised regarding these watered down proposals, the Independent reported that various tobacco firms, such as Philip Morris International, had spent over €1million lobbying to defeat these proposals.

However it seems that e-cigarettes are still safe from regulation. European users of the vaporizer will be happily puffing away in the knowledge that their favoured smoking tool is safe. Whether the ‘e cig’ will be thrust into the EU limelight again will have to wait until after the European elections of 2014. The MEP’s of next the parliament may not be so kind to the battery-powered cigarette. But the e- cigarette is still safe, for now.

About Antoine Weir

Based in Strasbourg, Antoine Weir is the European Affairs contributor for the International Citizen.
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