Friday, 18 October 2013

E-cigarettes and tobacco directive: what's next?

I am pleased to have played a role, along with my colleagues Chris Davies, Lib Dem MEP for the North West of England, and Belgian Liberal MEP Frédérique Ries in getting amendment 170 on e-cigarettes adopted by the European Parliament (EP) in the plenary vote on the tobacco products directive (TPD).

The EP will now enter negotiations with the 28 EU national governments ("The Council") as part of the co-decision legislative procedure. The Council position on the TPD includes e-cigarettes being subject to medicines regulation, but on key tobacco control measures e.g. health warnings, their position is rather similar to the EP.  

There is now serious time pressure to get the TPD concluded under the current Lithuanian Presidency of the EU and not to run into the Greek Presidency (which starts in January 2014), as Greece is Europe's biggest tobacco producer with a rather weak record on tobacco control.

Frédérique Ries MEP will represent the ALDE (Liberal) group in negotiations with national governments and will push to keep the parliament's position on ecigs in the final agreement. We (Frédérique, myself and Chris) will be consulting relevant experts to find practical solutions to concerns likely to be raised in relation to the regulation of ecigs, but what can activists or concerned individuals do? 

The focus is now on national governments whose health ministers will negotiate the TPD with the EP. I suggest contacting your MP to raise your concerns as well as the relevant Health Minister (for England, this is the newly appointed Public Health Minister Conservative MP Jane Ellison).

Keep your correspondence concise, polite and firm without over-dramatising or being aggressive, i.e. it fine to say "ecigs save lives", but not a good idea to accuse people of trying to kill you. I understand the passion involved, but being aggressive rather than assertive can lead to your concerns being dismissed as hysterical or bullying, or even worse, turn an undecided into a bona-fine supporter of medicines regulation.  

Many of those who support the medicines route seek (as I do) to make sure good quality e-cigarettes reach as many smokers as possible, but they believe (unlike me) that medicines regulation will achieve that.  

In any contact you have, I would suggest mentioning the following (please put into your own words, do not copy and paste!): 

  That ecigs attract smokers in a way that NRT products do not and thus have great potential to reduce smoking rates in Europe. (NB: if you are an ex-smoker who has switched to ecigs, briefly recount your personal story.) 

  The EP plenary voted clearly in favour of regulating e-cigarettes as consumer products (386 votes in favour, 283 votes against, 7 abstentions) and that all Liberal Democrat MEPs and all but one Tory MEP voted in favour of this amendment.  

  The EP position would require ecigs to be correctly labelled including in relation to nicotine levels, institute an under 18 sales ban and allow governments to impose marketing restrictions e.g. ban misleading advertising or that aimed at children/teenagers.

  That medicines regulation would impose additional costs that add no value, e.g. pharmaceutical grade manufacturing facilities and that many SMEs will be priced out of the market reducing consumer choice as well as decimating small businesses.

  That in many EU countries medicines regulation would make ecigs much less widely available than tobacco products, which will benefit the tobacco industry.

A battle has been won, but the war is not over yet.
Rebecca Taylor, Liberal Democrat MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber.