BRUSSELS Should electronic cigarettes be regulated as tobacco products? Or are they medicinal devices that should only be sold in pharmacies?

That s the debate brewing in Europe after a vote on October 8 by the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

As part of a legislative package aimed at discouraging young people from smoking tobacco, European lawmakers approved a draft law that would regulate the marketing of electronic cigarettes.

The bill still must be approved by the 28 European Union government leaders in the European Council.

The council recommended in June that e cigarettes should be regulated as medicinal products that could help smokers quit a step that would make the devices available only in pharmacies.

But after intense lobbying from the growing electronic cigarette industry, which includes powerful global tobacco companies, the European Parliament refused to heed the council s recommendation.

Instead, lawmakers in Strasbourg voted for the marketing of e cigarettes to be regulated in the same way that tobacco marketing is regulated.

That means sales of e cigarettes to children under 18 would be banned in the European Union, along with most advertising. Health warning labels also would be required.

But the smokeless vaporizing devices and their nicotine cartridge refills could still be sold in tobacco shops and specialist stores.

What Comes Next?

The vote has set the stage for an e cigarette tussle in Brussels. Will the council agree that e cigarettes should be treated like tobacco? Or will the council continue to insist that e cigarettes should be regulated as medicinal devices?

MEP Linda McAvan, a member of Britain s Labour Party, will serve as the European Parliament s rapporteur during negotiations on the issue with the European Council.

McAvan says all members of the European parliament agree that e cigarettes cannot be unregulated on the market. The debate boils down to how they should be regulated.

McAvan says she is certain there is a basis for compromise with EU governments that insist on medicinal regulations.

“Obviously, the European parliament has got a position which is the opposite of that in the sense that it is to be not medicines,” she says. “But at the same time, there are some common elements which are that there should be a regulatory framework. So I think we have to start a dialogue. It s difficult to predict what my colleagues in the European Parliament would accept and what the governments in the European Council will accept. But we ll start those negotiations quite soon.”

Research shows that about 85 percent of e cigarette users start because they want to wean themselves off the habit of smoking tobacco.

The devices vaporize liquid from cartridges that contain different amounts of nicotine, allowing users to gradually reduce their nicotine consumption.

E cigarette consumers say they are “vaping,” rather than smoking.

Helpful Or Harmful?

“It is probably less harmful because it doesn&#39 t contain any byproducts from the burning of tobacco,” one e cigarette user in the Czech capital, Prague, told RFE/RL. “It&#39 s also cheaper. And it&#39 s not smoking. It is something completely different and it takes some getting used to. I have given up tobacco completely. I haven&#39 t smoked a cigarette for 18 months now. And I started smoking when I was 15, so it had been more than 40 years of smoking .”

But Francesco Blasi, a professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Milan and the former president of the European Respiratory Society, told RFE/RL that e cigarettes are still too new to be sure about the long term health implications.

Eu considers ban on ‘too realistic’ e-cigarettes

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BRUSSELS All electronic cigarettes now on sale in Britain would be banned and removed from shelves under new European Union proposals.

A confidential negotiating document drafted by the European Commission seeks to overturn a vote by MEPs that rejected outlawing them in their present form.

Brussels officials fear there is a risk that electronic cigarettes can develop into a gateway to normal cigarettes, according to the paper. It wants to include the smoke free alternative under a new EU tobacco products directive despite the fact they contain no tobacco.

The attempt to ban e cigarettes drew anger from suppliers in Britain, where 1.3 million have switched to the devices.

Fraser Cropper, the chief executive officer of Totally Wicked, an e cigarette supplier based in Lancashire, said 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.

A town in northern France has become the first to impose a ban on electronic cigarettes in public buildings. Francois Digard is the mayor of Saint Lo in the La Manche region of Normandy, which passed a decree this month outlawing them.

France, which has an estimated 1.5 million e cigarette users, is mulling a ban but the mayor apparently decided to jump the gun after several non smokers said they were unhappy about the devices being smoked in public libraries.

The e cigarette is not neutral in the immediate environment. With it emitting odour and a bit of smoke it can really bother some people, Digard was quoted as saying by France Bleu Cotentin radio.

As cigarette smoking has been increasingly stigmatized, the sale of electronic cigarettes has risen dramatically.

E cigarettes consist of a battery, a cartridge containing nicotine, a solution of propylene glycol or glycerine mixed with water, and an atomizer to turn the solution into a vapour. The nicotine is delivered without a flame and without tobacco or tar and e cigarette users describe the experience as vaping rather than smoking.

They are widely considered a healthier alternative, however, the Dutch public health institute on Wednesday published a policy paper claiming electronic cigarettes are as harmful as ordinary cigarettes, saying they are addictive and contain poisonous substances.

Because the products are new and do not contain tobacco, they are outside EU law and are more or less unregulated in Britain and across Europe.

The officials in Brussels want that to change, saying the devices normalize the action of smoking. Electronic cigarettes are a tobacco related product and should be regulated within this directive. They simulate smoking behaviour and are increasingly used and marketed to young people and non smokers, said the commission negotiating paper.

The proposals would ban, by 2017, e cigarettes that produce levels of nicotine above 20 mg per ml, those with refillable cartridges or those that taste like tobacco. Suppliers say all e cigarettes now available would fall foul of the rules.

Martin Callanan, a Conservative MEP, said Forcing e cigarettes off the shelves would be crazy. It would remove a valuable support for people desperate to stop smoking and thus could potentially lead to needless deaths.