European lawmakers on Tuesday approved a long-fought and divisive anti-smoking bill aimed at making cigarettes less attractive to youngsters but threw out a bid to curb sales of increasingly popular e-cigarettes.
The European Parliament refused to classify electronic cigarettes as medicinal products, which would have restricted their sale to pharmacies.
'A very wise decision'
E-cigarettes, which are booming worldwide, will therefore continue to be available in tobacco shops or specialist stores, but will be banned for sale to minors and no advertising will be allowed.
Dr. Philippe Presles, who led a group of ten French medical professionals in a joint statement to the European Parliament this week, in support of electronic cigarettes, praised Tuesday’s move.
“It’s a very wise decision,” Presles, a tobacco specialist at the Insitiut Moncey, told The Local. “This way, research can continue in order to improve e-cigarettes and e-liquids,” products he believes have a demonstrable record of helping tobacco-users to quit.
The group of doctors labelled conventional cigarette smoking “the most serious public health problem in the world,” and called on other medical professionals to get behind e-cigarettes as an alternative.
“If doubts and debates persist about whether or not certain ingredients in e-cigarettes are perfectly harmless over the long term, they should be contrasted with the absolutely certain dangers of tobacco use,” the statement said.
For his part, Darren Moon, the proprietor of the Vap Shop in Paris, told The Local he was delighted with the parliament’s vote.
“It’s a great decision. I mean, if e-cigarettes could only be sold at pharmacies it would put us out of business completely,” he said.
“But apart from that, it just wouldn’t work. Pharmacies wouldn’t be able to give our customers the kind of information and advice they need, especially if they’re trying e-cigarettes for the first time.”
“We actually want regulation, we want transparency. There should be proper labelling on e-liquids, and there should be ingredient information, because we want to be able to reassure our customers,” he added.
The EU law, which still must win approval from the 28 European Union states, will force tobacco firms to print large health warnings covering 65 percent of the packaging, with the name of the brand printed at the bottom.
That was less than the 75 percent originally proposed by the European Commission. Flavoured cigarettes popular with youngsters will be banned in line with the proposal.
But in a considerable watering down of the proposals, "slims" will remain on the market and menthol cigarettes will only be banned eight years after the law comes into effect.
The aim of the new legislation is to cut the number of smokers across the 500-million bloc "by two percent in the next five years," the EU's Health Commissioner Toni Borg said as he urged MEPs to be "daring" and support the plan.
E-cigarettes 'potentially carcinogenic'?
In August, French organization '60 Million Consumers' caused a stir with a report which claimed that e-cigarettes were "potentially carcinogenic" and not as safe as their manufacturers had made them out to be.
“In three cases out of ten, for products with or without nicotine, the content of formaldehyde was as much as the levels found in some conventional cigarettes,” the report said.
Scientists also found traces of acrolein, a toxic molecule emmited in quantities “that exceeded the amount found in the smoke of some cigarettes” as well as traces of Acetaldehyde, another potentially toxic chemical.
However, cardiologist Konstantinos Farsalinos, who has published five studies on e-cigarettes, criticized the French report in an opinion piece for The Local.
"The level of these chemicals found in e-cigarettes is by an order of magnitude lower than in [normal] cigarettes,” he said, adding, "I don’t know why they announced that some chemicals were found in higher quantities than in normal cigarettes.”
“Findings such as these should always be compared to [the risks] of smoking ordinary cigarettes,” he said.
“The worry is that people will now go back to smoking tobacco products after reading the report. This is absolutely wrong and will have adverse effects on their health,” he added.
Earlier this year France’s Minister for Health Marisol Touraine struck a blow against the booming e-cigarette industry by announcing her intention to ban electronic cigarettes in public places as well as restricting their use to over 18s.