EU, European Parliament agree that refillable e-cigarettes could be banned across Europe if three countries decide on prohibition

, December 18, 2013 () – The European Union struck a deal yesterday which could curb the booming market in electronic cigarettes and lead to an EU-wide ban on a popular version of the nicotine device.

In hard-fought negotiations between the 28 governments of the EU and the European parliament, both sides agreed that refillable e-cigarettes could be banned across Europe if three countries decided on prohibition.

The parliament, under intense lobbying from the tobacco industry, took a more liberal line than the European commission, which proposed that e-cigarettes be legislated for in the same way as pharmaceuticals. That was rejected in the compromise, but individual countries were left free to regulate e-cigarettes as medicines. Ambassadors from the 28 countries will meet today to decide whether to accept the compromise or return to negotiations.

Martin Callanan, leader of the Conservatives in the European parliament, said: "This is a perverse decision that risks sending more people back to real, more harmful, cigarettes.

The key question centred on the impact of e-cigarettes and whether they encouraged people to start smoking or whether they weaned nicotine addicts off tobacco.

"It's direct inhalation of nicotine into the lungs. That creates an addiction very fast," said a senior diplomat involved in the negotiations. "It encourages a switch to real cigarettes."

The European e-cigarettes market is estimated at euros 2bn (pounds 1.7bn), with approximately seven million users. In Britain 1.3 million of an estimated 10 million smokers have switched to the electronic devices. Public health experts are divided about the devices: some argue that they could substantially cut 100,000 deaths annually in the UK - while others warn they will glamorise smoking.

One study of 657 smokers, published in the Lancet last month, found that e‑cigarettes worked as well as nicotine patches in helping people stop smoking.

France, which has an estimated 1.5 million e-cigarette users, is considering a ban, while a mayor in Normandy has introduced a ban. The EU agreement allows e-cigarettes with a nicotine content below 20mg/ml to be regulated for general sale, rather than treating them as medicinal products. Governments had demanded a 3mg/ml limit.

The deal, however, lets individual governments regulate the cigarettes as medicinal products if they choose.

The key issue for the EU is whether e-cigarettes encourage smoking or wean nicotine addicts

off tobacco

(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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