Regulation of electronic cigarettes at the European level

Magda Dąbska

According to survey of over 20 000 Polish students, one-fifth of them have tried e-cigarettes. No one questions that electronic cigarettes have become more attractive recently to compare with nicotine replacement therapies. They are available to purchase in various retail channels and over the Internet. Consumers considered them as attractive substitute of normal cigarettes and start using them in social situation. However, the market for e-cigarettes appears the next field where the interest of industry and the European Institutions are confronted.

How do electronic cigarettes work?

Electronic cigarettes are customized to needs of people who do not want smoke tobacco but cannot or do not want overcome their nicotine addiction. They do not contain tobacco and there is no combustion, and as a consequence there is no smoke and odour. Consumers inhale a vapour that usually consists of propylene glycol, nicotine and flavourings. Therefore, the users prefer to describe themselves as a “vaper” than “smokers”.

Although the market for electronic cigarettes is growing rapidly, there are not sufficient data concerning their safety. Only within the European Union the value of electronic cigarettes market is estimated at 400-500 million euros. However, the European Commission warns consumers against dishonest producers. It appears that many electronic cigarettes included traces of nicotine despite that some of them are labelled as “nicotine-free”. Moreover, ingredients of the liquid are not often published and they are not controlled in terms of safety and quality.

Regulation of electronic cigarettes in the European Union

There is no common regulation concerning electronic cigarettes within the European Union so far. The particular Members States take different approaches to the issue. Greece and Lithuania chose the way of complete prohibition of these products due to lack of sufficient evidence of safety. Malta regulates electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, whereas other fourteen Members States (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Sweden) consider them as medicinal products. Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Slovenia, Spain and United Kingdom have no specific rules in this matter and treat electronic cigarettes as consumer products. Poland is the only one country in Europe that bans advertising for electronic cigarettes. The European Commission’s proposals submitted to the European Parliament and Council aimed at revision of Tobacco Products Directive and classified electronic cigarettes as medicinal products. However, the electronic cigarettes industry claims that these products should be regulated as consumer products because they are neither tobacco nor medicinal products. Moreover, such regulation enables producers to attract consumers through appropriate design, labeling and advertising campaign. At this moment, Commission’s proposal is discussed within the EP’s Environment Committee.

Main References:

Gregor Erbach, Library Briefing, Library of the European Parliament 27/03/2013

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