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Dutch Health Ministry Ignores Evidence

Dutch Health Minister Martin Van Rijn has announced plans to restrict e-cigarette labeling in advance of possible EU restrictions, according to a Reuters report.

Citing a study of existing scientific research by the National Institute for Public Health (the leading health advisory body of the Netherlands, with the Dutch acronym RIVM), Van Rijn voiced concerns about a lack of evidence on the possible health effects of e-cigarettes. Apparently the institute missed a few things.

The Health Minister (a namesake of the country's most revered painter, Rembrandt van Rijn) asserted that "there is insufficient scientific evidence to be able to say whether the quantities of toxins in the exhaled air are dangerous for bystanders, " ignoring the recent study by Drexel University Professor Igor Burstyn, which found no dangerous quantities of toxins.

Van Rijn claimed that e-cigarettes are as addictive as combustible cigarettes because they contain nicotine, and stated that there is no proof that they help smokers quit smoking traditional cigarettes. This of course ignores the recent New Zealand study that found e-cigarettes marginally better as a quitting aid than the closest also-ran, the nicotine patch. Of course it also ignores the passionate testimonials of thousands of ex-smokers.

The minister's claims were enunciated in a letter to the National Parliament of the Netherlands last Thursday (28 November), in which he announced plans to "take measures in national legislation"regarding advertising, labeling, quality, and safety, and also to conduct further research.

Concerns about the product's attractiveness to children were also voiced, citing their bright colors, flashing lights, and jewelry-like appearance. It is feared that the product will attract children to combustible cigarettes, which are white and brown, do not flash, and do not look anything like jewels.

The Dutch ministry's move comes just as EU Commissioners are debating another revision of the Tobacco Products Directive, with a particular focus on the regulation of e-cigs. The EU Parliament voted in October, by a rather close margin, to reject proposed restrictions. Now, however the EU Commission, a cabinet-like body comprising 28 members, one from each member state, is thinking about altering that decision. A document leaked last week revealed that the body is leaning toward much more restrictive regulations. Of course any changes made by the Commission must then be considered by the EU Council, the smaller legislative body, and reconsidered by the Parliament, as well as submitted for ratification by all member states. The proposed changes would classify e-cigarettes as a "tobacco-related product" and impose rules that would ban everything currently on the market. The regulations would take effect by 2017.

The proposed regulations would allow only flavours authorised for use in nicotine replacement therapies, and even some of those could be banned if they are deemed appealing to youngsters. Nicotine levels over 20 mg/ml would be prohibited, as would refillable cartridges, and tobacco flavours.

Voices opposing the proposed revision of the directive countered that less restrictive regulation of e-cigs is certain to reduce deaths from cigarette smoke. However, the voices of those worried about uncertainties threaten to drown out this voice.