This morning, the European Parliament, the legislative body of the European Union, voted to reject a proposal that electronic cigarettes or “e cigs” be regulated as medical devices. The ruling, which contradicts several federal laws held by member nations of the E.U., is a major decision on what’s a fairly new and poorly understood health issue.

Electronic cigarettes have gained momentum in the past few years they’re seen as quasi medical tools to help quit smoking, but also seen as milder versions of cigarettes. They’re small, sometimes cigarette shaped devices that heat a liquid base containing nicotine and other ingredients (flavorings, mostly) slowly, so that the active chemicals vaporize, rather than burn as they would in a cigarette. The vapor is likely easier on the lungs than smoke from a regular cigarette, they can be smoked in places where cigarettes aren’t allowed (like bars and restaurants), and are about the same price as cigarettes in highly taxed places like New York City. (Disposable e cigs like the popular Blu brand, which costs $9.99, have about the same number of estimated “puffs” as a pack of regular cigarettes.) E cigs are estimated to become a $1.7 billion industry in the U.S. this year, more than twice that of the E.U.

E cigs are barely regulated. The few studies that have been performed indicate that the vapor from certain brands contains carcinogens, including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein, but e cigs are so new and have so recently become popular that the laws and regulations are struggling to catch up. At the moment, the U.S. has banned the sale to minors, but courts have rejected the FDA’s repeated attempts to have them classified as drugs (in the same category as nicotine patches). In the E.U., some countries, like Greece, have banned them outright. Some, like Britain, want them treated like medical devices, which would mean they would be more heavily regulated and only sold in pharmacies in some countries. The ruling will trickle down to the member countries within the next few years, as each country has to adjust its individual local and national laws.

Regulation in the U.S. is expected in the next month or so from public health officials, though the FDA hasn’t specified a timeline, and things are complicated by the shutdown.

Read more at the NY Times.

European lawmakers: good news and bad news for e-cigarettes

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The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, has approved comprehensive tobacco regulations to curb smoking in Europe. The rules include a ban on menthol cigarettes and new restrictions on electronic cigarettes.

The law isn’t final it still has to be reviewed by other branches of the European Union’s government. But its passage means that a the hotly contested debate over tobacco products in Europe is finally nearing an end.

Defenders of the smokeless tobacco product, speaking to the New York Times , cheered Parliament’s decision to spare e cigarettes from a proposal to regulate them as medical devices, which would have restricted their sale to pharmacies in some countries.

But the measure imposed stricter limits on advertising in Europe, a subject that is sure to be controversial in the U.S. as well.

The European vote is a step in the right direction” Craig Weiss, the CEO of NJOY, a market leader in the American e cigarette market wrote in an email. “At the same time, we are concerned about the proposed advertising restrictions. It is critical that companies like NJOY be able to fully inform tobacco smokers that they have an alternative.

American tobacco companies have endured tough advertising restrictions since 1970, including a ban on television advertising that does not extend to e cigarettes. E cigarette makers, taking advantage of the current lack of regulation, have expanded their marketing efforts. In the first quarter of 2013, according to Kantar Media, spending on e cigarette advertising rose to $15.7 million in the U.S., up from $2 million in the same period last year.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will not regulate electronic cigarettes as medical devices either, but it has set a deadline to begin the process of regulating them as tobacco product by the end of October, a deadline that could be pushed back by the government shutdown. TIME explored the coming regulations in an investigation in September. Restrictions on print, radio, and television advertising are a possibility.