E-cigarettes are often presented as a solution for smokers who want to quit their deadly habit but struggle to overcome their nicotine addiction, but how safe are they? Should they be regulated as medication or as tobacco products? These issues are currently being considered as part of a review of the tobacco products directive.
The pros and cons of e-cigarettes
E-cigarettes are seen as a safer alternative to tobacco as althought they provide users with nicotine, the level of toxic substances in the vapour is much lower than in smoke from regular cigarettes.
However, not that much is known about them as there are no studies on the long-term effects on people. They contain harmful substances and can lead to nicotine addition. Flavourings could also pose a health risk and e-cigarettes could prove attractive to young people. Finally, they have never been proved completely safe.
Both the European Commission and the World Health Organisation propose that e-cigarettes are regulated like pharmaceuticals but the industry prefers that they are regulated as tobacco products.
Linda McAvan, a British member of the S&D group, who is responsible for steering the revision of the tobacco products directive through Parliament, urged caution: "I know that people have very strong feelings on this subject but we as MEPs are here to get the best possible regulation of these products, not to ban them."
Peter Liese, a German member of the EPP group, added: "E-cigarettes are dangerous, especially when they are not properly manufactured, so we cannot just leave them unregulated."
Experts differed on the approach to e-cigarettes during the workshop in the Parliament on 7 May. Roberto Bertolini, a representative of the World Health Organisation to the EU, said: "There are no studies that can prove that there won´t be long term consequences." Dr Charlotte Pisinger, a researcher at the Research Centre for Prevention and Health in Copenhagen, added: "Let´s not repeat the errors of the past."