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THE vaping crackdown has begun.
Last week the European Parliament approved legislation governing the sale of electronic cigarettes, setting a precedent for other parts of the world where e cigarettes are still unregulated.
The new law allows shops to continue selling e cigarettes as consumer goods to Europe’s estimated 10 million e cigarette smokers, or “vapers”. They will not be classified as medicines like an earlier draft proposed. But the final draft, which now just needs member state approval, imposes strict conditions on the sale and advertising of e cigarettes.
From mid 2016, all advertising will be banned in the 28 European Union countries. Packaging will include the warning that “nicotine is addictive and could be harmful”, despite scant evidence so far of the product’s ill effects.
The nicotine in e cigarettes will be capped at 20 milligrams per millilitre of vaporising fluid. Scientists have said this might deter smokers from using them because the strength of a normal cigarette would be closer to 50 milligrams.
This article appeared in print under the headline “E cigs regulated”
E-cigarettes: sending the wrong smoke-signal
- United States
- Health care
- Smoking and tobacco
- Health and fitness
E cigarettes are not entirely risk free. Little research has yet been done about their long term health effects. Nicotine is, in implausibly large doses, a poison. Even in small ones it is addictive and the amount of the chemical dispensed by e cigarettes varies from one brand to another. But it is already clear that whatever health risks may emerge in studies of e cigarette use, they are vastly less lethal than traditional smokes.
Given the prospect of weaning the world s billion or so smokers onto something much less harmful, as well as protecting children and others from second hand smoke, there is a more sensible approach. Europe should tighten the existing rules on labelling and quality control that affect e cigarettes. America should also increase oversight. Governments should then invest in rigorous testing and see how the product evolves. For e cigarettes are changing rapidly in response to consumer demand. In America around 300m of them will be sold this year, three times the figure in 2012.
This seems to worry pharmaceutical firms, which in Europe are lobbying for curbs on e cigarettes, a competitor to their nicotine patches and other quitting aids. Big tobacco firms are working on e cigarettes of their own, as well as cigarettes that heat rather than burn the tobacco. But they have an interest in slowing the switch to smokeless smokes. If the innovative smaller firms that make most e cigarettes have to seek a licence every time they want to offer a new flavour or strength, the move towards safer nicotine consumption will be slowed.
Careless regulation costs lives
So far it seems that most regular vapers of e cigarettes are smokers or ex smokers. But over time the prospect of a relatively harm free nicotine kick could draw in many new users. This risk, and the lack of long term research on the residual risks of nicotine, argue for restricting the sales of e cigarettes to children. But as far as adults are concerned, they should be subject to less regulation than alcohol (which is far more harmful) and perhaps to no more than caffeine, another addictive and mildly poisonous substance whose widespread use governments see no need to curb. The risk of getting more people addicted to something relatively harmless is well worth taking, given the opportunity for curbing dramatically the world s single most harmful voluntary activity. Politicians should stand back and let a thousand e cig brands bloom.