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EU Commission Counters Parliament Decision

The Commission of the European Union has introduced a new version of the Tobacco Products Directive, one that differs substantially from the version passed by the EU Parliament last month. The Commission version would impose extremely restrictive rules on the advertising, sale, and use of electronic cigarettes.

The Commission functions as something of an executive cabinet for the EU. It comprises 28 members, one from each member state, and serves under the President, currently Portugal's José Manuel Durão Barroso. (The President is proposed by the EU Council, the smaller of the Union's legislative bodies, and together the proposed President and the Council appoint the other Commission members, whereupon the Commission as a whole is subject to an approval vote by the Parliament, the larger legislative body.)

Last month the Parliament rejected a provision of the Tobacco Products Directive that would have treated e-cigarettes as medical devices, and this was seen as a victory for those who favor a "harm reduction" approach to cigarette control. Regulation as a medicine is expected to entail expensive requirements that may drive smaller companies out of business and give the e-cig industry to the Big Tobacco companies, producers of combustible cigarettes, who have only recently gotten into the e-cig business. The other options for regulation include the treatment of e-cigs as a tobacco product, essentially imposing on them the same restrictions that are imposed on cigarettes, and treating them as an ordinary consumer product, imposing minimal restrictions.

The Commission's proposed directive would combine features of the medical approach and the tobacco products approach, according to British health policy advocate Clive Bates, resulting in draconian restrictions that would make it substantially more difficult for ex-smokers, many of whom use e-cigs as a smoking-cessation device, to obtain the product. Bates says that the proposal would severely restrict advertising in print, on television, and the internet, would impose onerous labeling requirements, and severely restrict permissible nicotine levels and flavours, among other restrictions.

The new proposal will be taken up by the EU Council on December 10, and it will be subject to consideration by all three major legislative/executive bodies of the EU: the Council, the Commission, and the Parliament. It will also be subject to review by all 28 member states.

Bates recommends a variety of possible responses, people to contact, and so forth, in his piece "They just don't get it! - Commission proposal for the regulation of e-cigarettes", posted on the E-Cigarette Forum.