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Electronic Cigarette Health Risks? European Lawmakers’ Ruling Rejects “Medical Device” Label

In an effort to curb smoking in Europe, the European Parliament approved comprehensive tobacco regulations, according to online news sites on October 8, 2013. The new regulations, passed in Strasbourg, France nixed approval of a proposal to regulate e-cigarettes as medical devices, a move that is being hailed as a victory by users and producers of electronic cigarettes. Regulating electronic cigarettes as medical devices would have put tight restrictions on the sale of e-cigs in pharmacies in some countries.

The controversy about whether nicotine vapor devices are an effective method for people to quit smoking and electronic cigarette health risks continues to be debated in the U.S. as well as in Europe. Governments faced with regulating the sale of e-cigarettes are trying to play catch-up with rapidly growing sales numbers on both sides of the Atlantic. In part because electronic cigarette health risks have yet to be thoroughly studied, Europe’s new law known as the Tobacco Products Directive, bans the sale of e-cigarettes to anyone younger than 18.

An article in the October 8, 2103 editions of the New York Times includes this quote: “This is a fantastic result for public health and the millions of smokers around Europe who are switching to e-cigarettes,” said Charles Hamshaw-Thomas, corporate affairs director of Britain’s biggest e-cigarette brand by sales volume, E-Lites. “Common sense has prevailed.”

By exempting electronic cigarettes from the category of medical devices, they are not subject to the complicated and potentially expensive certification process. However, the legislation drafted by the 600-member European Parliament must be signed off by the European Commission and the European Council. It would then take years for individual countries to change their nation’s rules to conform to the European Union’s regulations.

In the U.S., the F.D.A. was expected to issue rules about e-cigarettes this month. The government shutdown or other factors are likely to delay the decision. In 2010, a court in Washington ruled against the F.D.A. for impounding shipments of electronic cigarettes because they had not been cleared through procedures for drugs.

Proponents say electronic cigarettes’ health risks are unsubstantiated, and in fact, smokers have reported using e-cigs as an effective way to cut down on tobacco cigarette use. As research continues and numbers of people using nicotine vapor devices soars, expect to see more news about the move to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes.

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