Speaking to France Info radio on Friday, Health Minister Marisol Touraine confirmed recent speculation that the French government will seek a ban on the use of electronic cigarettes in public.
“The e-cigarette is not an ordinary product,” the minister said. “We need to apply the same measures as there are for tobacco. That means making sure it cannot be smoked in public places, that its sale is restricted to over 18s and that firms are not allowed to advertise the products.”
Touraine’s proposals are in line with the recommendations made in a specialist report by Professor Bertrand Dauzenberg that was published earlier this week.
Banning e-cigarettes in public could do serious damage to France’s burgeoning e-cigarette industry, which has enjoyed something of a boom in recent months.
“If they ban it in public or in the workplace, I’ll be closing my store, or moving it somewhere where there aren’t restrictions like that,” Darren Moon, the English proprietor of Vapshop.fr told The Local.
“20 percent of our business is selling disposable e-cigarettes to restaurants, clubs, bars and hotels. So if there’s a workplace ban, I’d have to start firing people,” he added, noting that his sales have seen “20 to 25 percent growth” every month.
Around half a million French people are estimated to use electronic cigarettes as a way of weening themselves off traditional tobacco filled fags.
People can freely use them in bars and restaurants, where traditional smoking is banned as well as at work.
At present, employers have discretion as to whether or not to allow the use of e-cigarettes by employees.
The device, which was first invented in China back in 2003 gives the user a similar sensation to smoking a cigarette.
The battery powered, pen-sized products contain liquid nicotine that is turned into a vapor which is then inhaled.
Their obvious health benefit as opposed to smoking is that they don't contain tobacco and other carcinogens found in cigarettes.
However, health experts have expressed concerns about certain chemicals contained in the liquid, most notably the compound propylene glycol.
As far back as May 2011 the French health agency AFSSAPS advised against using the devices, saying they still contained nicotine, which even at a low concentration could lead to ‘damaging side effects’.
Back in March, Dautzenberg told Europe1 radio the device could have the opposite effect that is designed for.
“These electronic cigarettes could also lead children to start smoking,” he said, insisting they should be banned from minors.
However "for the big smokers, I believe these will reduce the health risks", Dautzenberg told Le Parisien in a separate interview.
The specialist insisted the best way to give up smoking was the patch "which releases nicotine gently and will reduce the addiction".
Commercially, the e-cigarette industry in France could be particularly vulnerable to a ban, because there the product is sold disproportionately through specialist retailers, according to a spokesman from the London-based market intelligence firm Euromonitor International.
"The e-cigarette market is developing very rapidly in France. The two main advantages of e-cigarettes is that they're seen as healthier than traditional cigarettes, and you can use them in settings like bars and restaurants, where traditional cigarettes aren't allowed," said the spokesman.
"A measure like a public ban would reduce the public perception of harmlessness and remove the practical benefit of smoking an e-cigarette in the first place. So it would be highly damaging to the industry," he concluded.