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E-cigarettes to be regulated

New rules on electronic cigarettes and bigger health warnings on cigarette packets planned by European Commission
WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

19th December 2012 - Plans for e-cigarettes to be regulated for the first time and bigger health warnings on cigarette packets have been announced by the European Commission.

The plans have been welcomed by Cancer Research UK and the anti- smoking group ASH.

Tobacco products directive

The EC planned legislation tightens rules and introduces new measures on how tobacco products can be manufactured, marketed and sold.

In a press statement the commissioner in charge of Health and Consumer Policy, Tonio Borg says: "Tobacco kills half of its users and is highly addictive. With 70% of the smokers starting before the age of 18, the ambition of today's proposal is to make tobacco products and smoking less attractive and thus discourage tobacco initiation among young people."

Main proposals

Packaging: Europe isn't going as far as Australia in ordering plain packaging for cigarette packets, but a combined picture and health warning will have to cover 75% of the front and the back of the package. Member states can still introduce plain packaging if they want to. Tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide information will be replaced with a message stating that tobacco smoke contains more than 70 cancer causing substances.

Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes: The rules are widened from just tobacco to include nicotine containing products, such as electronic cigarettes. Products delivering nicotine below a certain level will still be able to be sold unregulated as they are now, but with health warnings. E-cigarettes delivering higher levels of nicotine will be regulated as medicinal products in the same way as nicotine replacement therapies.

Flavours: The proposals would ban flavoured tobacco, such as menthol, and products with increased toxicity and addictiveness. Herbal cigarettes will have to carry health warnings.

Smokeless tobacco: The ban on oral tobacco products called snus is kept, apart from in Sweden, which is exempt. Products still have to carry health warnings.

Online sellers will have to check tobacco products are not sold to children and adolescents. Special holograms would be introduced to tobacco packaging to make sure that only products complying with the European directive are sold in the EU.


Katherine Devlin, president of the UK electronic cigarette industry body ECITA tells us by email the changes are likely to be challenged: "We believe it is clear that the Commission has recognised that electronic cigarette products are not tobacco products, and therefore, they do not fall within the scope of the revisions to the Tobacco Products Directive.

"Just as significant to this issue is the fact that electronic cigarette products are not medicinal products either."

She says existing consumer product safety regulations are enough to ensure safety of e-cigarettes and says they’ll will work with the EC and UK regulators. "Ultimately, it would be an outrageous disservice to public health to restrict access to electronic cigarettes - provided the appropriate regulations are enforced, to ensure quality and safety - and would only serve the interests of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, whose markets are damaged by our success, as well as the multi-million pound tobacco control industry."

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