The store Esmokeclean in the town of Plaisance-du-Touch near Toulouse was told by a French court on Monday that it could no longer sell e-cigarettes, in a ruling likely to spark uproar among e-cigarette store owners.
The landmark decision by the court in Toulouse is subject to appeal but could eventually see the distribution of e-cigarettes limited by a state-imposed monopoly on tobacco sales. It is just the latest development in an increasingly bitter war between electronic cigarettes - battery-powered, vapour-releasing tubes and conventional tobacco.
The case came about when Annie Pontus, who runs a tobacco shop in Plaisance-du-Touch, complained about Esmokeclean being able to advertise their e-cigarettes when she, on the other hand, was barred for putting up adverts about the tobacco she sold.
“On their window it says ‘smoke another way’, and things like that. We don’t have the right to advertise but these people, who sell nicotine-based products, do," she had argued.
Pontus and her lawyer, said that e-cigarettes and their liquids contain nicotine, so should therefore be placed in the same legal bracket as tobacco products.
She also believes the government should regulate their sale and make it law that tobacconists have the exclusive right to sell the devices.
“If these shops have all their rights, including that of advertising, I don’t see why tobacconists don’t also have those rights,” she said.
On Monday the court in Toulouse delivered a verdict in her favour.
It ruled that despite containing no tobacco, e-cigs were substitute tobacco products, and therefore should be liable to the same laws as tobacco.
Judges ruled that the devices should be subject to France's state imposed monopoly on tobacco, which stipulates cigarettes and other products can only be sold in registered outlets.
In making the ruling judges rejected the arguments of Esmokeclean that e-cigarettes are not currently subject to any regulations and therefore should not fall under the tobacconist’s monopoly.
The store’s lawyer announced an immediate appeal meaning for the moment the court’s judgement is not applicable.
The ruling is the latest twist in an ongoing saga in France regarding the status of e-cigarettes.
The tobacconist's legal action comes after the European Parliament ruled earlier this month that e-cigarettes were not in fact medicinal and could therefore remain on open sale.
If the bill gets approved by the 28 member states then both private stores and tobacconists will continue to have the right to sell the hugely popular electronic cigarettes.
The EU bill also seeks to outlaw all advertising of e-cigarettes in an attempt to discourage all forms of smoking.
Reynald Pirat, one of the owners of Esmokeclean, seemed to suggest he thought the case was a lot of hot air, calling it a “tall tale”.
"I absolutely do not make the same product as them, " he said. “They are the addiction and we are the cure, it’s ironic really” he said.
Pirat, who owns another e-cigarette shop in Colomiers in the Haute-Garonne region, and his lawyer Benjamin Echalier, deny that e-cigarettes should be classed as a tobacco product.