EU enacts harmful restrictions on could have been worse

NICOTINE & HEALTHAfter years of deliberation, including seeking opinions from the public and stakeholders, the European Union Parliament voted this week to impose rather severe restrictions on electronic cigarettes (ecigs). For those who have not been reading Dispatch or newspapers over the past year or so, ecigs are the new-ish devices which heat water vapor, propylene glycol or glycerin, and nicotine to supply smokers trying to quit with both their craved addictive drug nicotine and the behavioral, hand-to-mouth rituals attendant upon long-term cigarette smoking. There is anecdotal, but abundant evidence that ecigs are much more effective than the FDA-approved methods of helping smokers quit (see e.g. my Facebook page, HelpingAddictedSmokers, which has over 33,000 followers).

So the bureaucrats governing (in their own unique fashion) the EU have finally arrived at their overarching regulatory program for tobacco, called the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). Among the articles banning menthol (in 5 years) and mandating large graphic warnings, they chose to include limits on the size of personal vaporizers (a type of ecig which allows vapers to craft their own juice, the nicotine- and flavoring-containing liquid that gets vaporized and inhaled), as well on the level of nicotine permitted (20 mg/ml way too low for medium- to heavy-smokers).

I wrote an op-ed for European readers addressing the earlier versions of the TPD, had this perspective: First of all, let me note that ecigs have nothing in them that might harm anyone, vaper or bystander, so all the momentum to ban or restrict them, in the EU and here, amounts to perverse nonsense masquerading as public health. In fact, given the nearly half-million annually killed by cigarettes among America s 44 million smokers, interfering with free access to ecigs is the most perverse approach to the real problem as is humanly possible. Well, the good news is that the EU s initial tobacco directive proposed to deem ecigs as medicinals, which would have required clinical trials and thrown them off the market for years. Thankfully, due largely to a citizen s uprising last summer, when vapers marched on Brussels and Strasbourg en masse, the Parliament revised that to make them merely much less effective, but still theoretically accessible.

Now, the real 800-lb gorilla: what effect these measures will have on our own FDA, whose proposed regulations were sent to the OMB last October, and were apparently not appreciated by those overseers and sent back for revision, and hopefully less stringent rules. We shall see soon enough, whether the FDA will allow our smokers the ability to quit in a more public health-friendly manner than our EU cousins have.