Governmental Uncertainty on E-Cigs a Global Phenomenon

European Parliament rejects strict regulation of electronic cigarettes

European Parliament

STRASBOURG, France -- In a decision that could resonate in the United States and in other countries trying to determine how to handle electronic cigarettes, the European Parliament on Tuesday scrapped health officials' proposals that the products be tightly regulated as medicines, reported The New York Times. Instead, lawmakers endorsed a more permissive approach to their sale and use.

The use of e-cigarettes, primarily by smokers looking for a way to kick their tobacco habit, has skyrocketed in Europe and also the United States, said the report, with sales growing so fast that some Wall Street analysts predict the battery-powered devices could surpass cigarettes within a decade.

But the products and their use have quickly outrun any rules on either side of the Atlantic for regulating them.

Europe's new rules for e-cigarettes, contained in a draft law known as the Tobacco Products Directive, fill a legal vacuum around a product whose explosive growth has left regulators and health officials struggling to catch up.

"E-cigarettes should be regulated, but not be subject to the same rules as medicinal products unless they are presented as having curative or preventive properties," the European Parliament press release on the draft law read. "Those for which no such claims are made should contain no more than 30mg/ml of nicotine, should carry health warnings and should not be sold to anyone under 18 years old. Manufacturers and importers would also have to supply the competent authorities with a list of all the ingredients that they contain. Finally, e-cigarettes would be subject to the same advertising restrictions as tobacco products."

Click here to view the full European Parliament release.

Some governments in Europe have tried to rigidly regulate and even ban e-cigarettes, but this has led to a flurry of often successful court actions by e-cigarette companies determined to defend their product.

In the United States, too, efforts by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) to devise e-cigarette rules have met industry resistance.

Although Tuesday's vote is not the end of the rule-making process for e-cigarettes in Europe, experts say the finish line is now in sight.

In the United States, the FDA has said it intends to announce some form of regulations for the field. Industry executive and public health officials have been expecting that move as soon as late October. But that timing is uncertain, in part in light of the government shutdown, the newspaper said.

In both Europe and the United States, confusion about the exact legal status of e-cigarettes has led to increasingly loud calls for more clarity. In late September, attorneys general from 41 states and territories wrote a letter to the FDA demanding quick action to protect children with the same rules on sales and marketing that apply to conventional cigarettes. "The restrictions should be applied to e-cigarettes as well," the letter said.

Click here to view the full New York Times report.