LONDON A leaked document from the European Commission reveals that the European Union (EU) intends to impose stricter bans on electronic cigarettes by treating them like regular tobacco cigarettes, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Citing a risk that electronic cigarettes can develop into a gateway to normal cigarettes, the commission intends to group e cigarettes under a new tobacco products directive, treating them as a tobacco related product, and as such, be regulated within this directive by 2017.

The proposal targets e cigarettes that release levels of nicotine in excess of 20 milligrams per milliliter, allow for refillable cartridges, or provide a taste imitating tobacco. According to the Telegraph, such restrictions would outlaw all e cigarettes that are currently on store shelves.

Only flavors which are authorized for use in nicotine replacement therapies can be used in electronic cigarettes, unless such a flavor is particularly attractive to young people and non smokers, the document said.

Fraser Cropper, the chief executive officer of Totally Wicked, an e cigarette supplier, accused EU officials of wanting to introduce a ban by the back door in defiance of the European Parliament.

Behind closed doors in Brussels, unaccountable and unelected bureaucrats are drafting proposals that will deny millions of existing and former smokers access to a safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes, he said.

Last week, the Dutch public health institute published a paper claiming that electronic cigarettes are equally as harmful as ordinary cigarettes, because they are addictive and contain poisonous substances.

But because the products do not contain tobacco, they currently fall outside EU law and are more or less unregulated across Europe.

EU officials want that to change, maintaining the devices normalize the action of smoking.

Electronic cigarettes are a tobacco related product and should be regulated within this directive. They simulate smoking behavior and are increasingly used and marketed to young people and non smokers, said the commission paper.

According to industry estimates, if current e cigarette growth rates continue, when the EU ban would come into force in 2017, there could be nearly five million consumers using electronic cigarettes rather than tobacco.

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Cigarette brand preferences

GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK) is pushing for more stringent regulation of electronic cigarettes, which compete with its Nicorette gum and other smoking cessation products, according to e mails from a company executive.

Europe should follow the lead of the U.K., which plans to require e cigarettes to be licensed as medicines much the way other nicotine replacement therapy products are, wrote Sophie Crousse, the Brussels based vice president of European public affairs for Glaxo s consumer health care division.

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We believe in responsible and proportionate regulation for all nicotine containing products as medicinal products, Crousse said in an e mail dated Oct. 30. The message and other documents were made public last week through a freedom of information request made to the health and consumer affairs division of the European Commission.

The commission is revising the Tobacco Products Directive to regulate products such as e cigarettes that don t contain tobacco, yet are linked to tobacco use. E cigarettes, which Euromonitor International Plc estimates will generate $7 billion in sales by the end of this year, compete with quit smoking products sold by pharmaceutical companies including Glaxo, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ US) and Novartis AG.

Upcoming Vote

In December, representatives of European Union governments and the European Parliament reached an agreement that the strongest e cigarettes would need authorization as a medicine. This would apply to e cigarettes with a nicotine strength of more than 20 milligrams per milliliter. The European Parliament is scheduled to vote next week on the compromise accord.

Glaxo also sought assurances that the revised directive will apply to e cigarettes already on the market and ensure a ban on advertising, according to company comments included in a draft of Article 18 of the tobacco directive. British American Tobacco Plc this week started a digital and television advertising campaign for the Vype e cigarette brand.

Safety is our number one priority and we support the smoker s right to choose from a selection of products that have well established safety and efficacy profile in helping them quit smoking, Simon Steel, a spokesman for London based Glaxo, said in an e mailed statement. All nicotine containing products including e cigarettes should be reviewed and regulated to the same standard of safety.

Tobacco Smoke

J&J, which markets the Nicorette line of products in all markets outside the U.S., is also strongly in favor of regulating all non tobacco nicotine products, including e cigarettes, as medicines, Caroline Almeida, a spokeswoman for the New Brunswick, New Jersey based company, said in an e mailed statement.

This is the best way to ensure all non tobacco nicotine products are advancing public health by means of effective, high quality and safe products, Almeida said.

Novartis (NOVN), the Basel, Switzerland based company that markets Nicotinell gums, lozenges and patches, didn t immediately provide a comment.

Smoking, E Updated

The primary components of e cigarette cartridges and vapor are propylene glycol, glycerine and nicotine. Smokers are harmed by the deadly tar and toxins in tobacco smoke.

In the U.K., the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency will require manufacturers to present data on the quality of their products, on how they deliver the addictive drug nicotine to the body and on how they compare with existing nicotine replacement products.

Research commissioned by the U.K. agency has shown that nicotine levels in some e cigarettes can be considerably different from the level stated on the label, according to Jeremy Mean, an official in the MHRA unit in charge of vigilance risk management of medicines.

To contact the reporter on this story Makiko Kitamura in London at mkitamura1

To contact the editor responsible for this story Phil Serafino at pserafino