You have written to express concern about the European Commission’s proposals for revising the EU Directive on the Sale of Tobacco and Related Products that would restrict the availability and nicotine content of e-cigarettes. The draft legislation is now being considered by the European Parliament’s environment and public health committee and the deadline for tabling amendments has just passed. I hear that some 1,300 have now gone for translation into the various EU languages.
Until a few months ago I had never heard of e-cigarettes. Since then I have had many letters and e-mails from users, have met with manufacturers, and have read widely on the subject. I am convinced that they can play a very effective role in helping confirmed smokers reduce or eliminate their dependence upon tobacco. Although the long term effects of using e-cigarettes has yet to be established it seems very likely to me that their use, rather than the continued smoking of cigarettes, is likely to be much less harmful to health and will prolong lives.
I am opposed to the introduction of restrictions on the sale and use of e-cigarettes by adults.
The European Commission has emphasised that it does not wish to ban the products but only to require them to be classified as medicines. However, this route involves significant costs and potential restrictions on their development and sale. It is true that e-cigarettes can be used as a medicinal nicotine replacement therapy but they can also be considered as a recreational drug like alcohol or tobacco cigarettes, albeit one which appears to be very much less harmful. It is the fact that they are said to be pleasurable to use that makes them so effective as a means of combatting addictive use of tobacco. I cannot see any value in allowing it to be easier for conventional cigarettes to be sold than e-cigarettes.
I am also opposed to the introduction of restrictions on the nicotine content of e-cigarettes. The user is the best person to judge what level of nicotine is appropriate to meet their needs, although clear information should be provided and the purity of the contents guaranteed.
I have tabled a series of amendments along these lines. I do believe that the Commission should review the properties of e-cigarettes and, if necessary, put forward separate proposals at a later date, and I do believe that the products should be labelled to point out that nicotine is addictive and may harm health, but this amounts to light-touch regulation not the heavy handed approach currently being pursued.
Let me refer to the politics and what you may be able to do to influence the final shape of the law.
E-cigarettes are new products that enable the inhalation into the lungs of a vapour that includes a known addictive substance and trace elements of other chemicals. It is perhaps not surprising that the first reaction of many people is to say that their use should be strictly controlled. What is too often missing from the debate is that tobacco cigarettes kill 700,000 people a year in Europe and that by comparison the use of e-cigarettes is hugely preferable as an alternative.
As the issue becomes better understood I believe that many MEPs of different nationalities are starting to question the approach being advocated by the Commission. But time is short, and there are many minds to change before we vote. I hope that users of e-cigarettes in other countries are making their voices heard as effectively as they are here, but there is more work to be done in the UK too.
The UK is represented by 73 MEPs and anything you can do that will encourage e-cigarette users to contact their regional representatives about the issue will be useful. I know of only a few MEPs who have declared their opposition to restrictions on e-cigarettes so I shall avoid naming names, but without wishing to be party political my sense is that Labour MEPs are more in favour of such restrictions than those of other parties.
Two have particular influence:
The European Parliament’s rapporteur (lead negotiator) is Linda McAvan, who represents Yorkshire & the Humber and with whom I often work closely, although it seems that we may disagree on this issue.
The leader of the UK Labour delegation is Glenis Willmott MEP (East Midlands), and I understand that she has tabled a number of amendments calling for tight restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes.
In my opinion nothing is more persuasive in making people think afresh about this issue than the personal testimony of addicted smokers who have turned to the use of e-cigarettes. (Mass emails of identical letters are particularly ineffective in my experience; they become simply an annoyance).
It is particularly effective if the letters come from people who live in the region that the MEP represents.
You can find contact information on your local MEPs by visiting writetothem.com
If you feel passionate about the issue I encourage you to make personal representations and urge others to do so too.
Liberal Democrat MEP for the North West of England