The current EU Tobacco Directive was brought into effect in 2001 and covers a broad range of topics related to the sale and use of tobacco products.
Recently a new revision was drafted to respond to what have been described by the European Commission as “several market, scientific and international developments in the tobacco sector…” which mean “…the existing rules present a number of weaknesses, gaps and loopholes. “
The revision addresses the following main issues:
- how to regulate products which do not contain tobacco, but which are closely linked to smoking or tobacco consumption, for example electronic- and herbal cigarettes,
- labelling and packaging of tobacco products
- additives, such as flavourings, used in tobacco products,
- internet sales of tobacco products and
- tracking and tracing of these products.
The particular proposal related to electronic cigarettes centred around whether the devices should be classified as a medicine alongside NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) products such as patches and gum. This classification would impose a number of strict rules that would make electronic cigarettes much more difficult to get hold of, and not particularly profitable to sell.
If passed, the revision would mean that no e-liquid with a nicotine content above 4mg would be commercially available and companies wishing to sell e-cigarettes would have to apply for medical licensing, an expensive and lengthy process that would mean most of the smaller electronic cigarette companies would simply not be financially viable anymore.
There has been a lot of action in the electronic cigarette community, users and purveyors both have contacted their respective MEPs to explain to them what a mistake such a change in the law would be. Many people were concerned that the increased difficulty in finding electronic cigarettes would lead them to smoke regular cigarettes again, as NRT have been shown to work in only 5% of cases.
Today (Tuesday 8th October 2013) MEPs voted on the various revisions. Among the many changes made to tobacco products the proposed medical classification for electronic cigarettes has been voted against.
This means that according to the EU parliament electronic cigarettes are NOT medicines and will not be regulated as such.
Any liquid with a nicotine content above 30mg will be classified as a medical product, which will cut down on the availability of pure nicotine used by individuals to create their own e-liquids. This means that a lot of unregulated, fly-by-night market-stall style sellers will be unable to make and sell their suspect liquid, leading to a much safer environment for all vapers.
The UK government has claimed that it will still push for a medical classification for electronic cigarettes in the UK in 2016, but with this decision from the EU their position is significantly weakened, and by 2016 it’s more than likely that an entirely different government will be in power, so for now medical classification seems highly unlikely.