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E-cigarettes escape stricter European regulation

Europe has shied away from regulating electronic cigarettes (‘e-cigarettes’) as medical devices.

Tobacco-control researchers have been furiously debating the safety and desirability of these products, which have surged in popularity over the past year (see ‘Regulation stacks up for e-cigarettes’).

The European Commission had proposed to regulate e-cigarettes as medical devices, as part of a major revision of tobacco control in the European Union (EU). But after negotiations this week, it seems that the nicotine-inhaling devices will instead fall under the same rules as other tobacco products.

Some scientists believe that e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, and thus can help reduce the burden of disease from tobacco smoking. But others counter that with few controls on advertising and sales, the devices will make smoking socially acceptable again and that they can provide a gateway to conventional cigarettes for young people.

Politicians in the European Parliament have been pushing to have e-cigarettes regulated as medical devices — and therefore subject to tougher controls — only when their marketing makes health claims (see ‘Europe on collision course over e-cigarette legislation’). And they seem to have won over the other arms of the EU — the Council of Ministers and the Commission — although formal sign-off on the deal is still required before it comes into force in 2014.

Tonio Borg, the EU health commissioner, said today that the agreement reached yesterday will put in place “clear safety and quality standards for this growing sector of the market”.

The deal will also mean all cigarette and tobacco products will have to have health warnings covering 65% of their packaging. Flavoured tobacco — including menthol cigarettes — will be banned.

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