As useful as the electronic cigarette is as a tobacco harm-reduction aid, the device has been shrouded in controversy and debate ever since its debut in world markets. E-cigarettes are popular among users and have helped a considerable number of people quit smoking. However, governments and organizations such as the FDA and WHO have been skeptical about the safety of the device. Contested studies show the presence of toxins within the tobacco-free e-cigarettes and also that they increase lung resistance. On the other hand, there are studies that show a considerable percentage of people feeling healthier after switching to e-cigarettes, that these devices do not cause any significant harm to the human heart, and that the vapor they produce isn’t hazardous to human health.
In the midst of this contradictory evidence, a new development has occurred that could affect the way the entire e-cigarette industry works. Late last month, it was reported that certain documents from European Union Health Commissioner John Dalli were leaked. They are said to have contained proof of a plan to ban all electronic cigarettes in Europe as a part of the Tobacco Product Directive, all set to appear before a meeting at the World Health Organization this year. With this directive, the EU wants to place a complete ban on all types of smokeless tobacco and nicotine delivery systems. This would obviously include electronic cigarettes as well. Interestingly, the EU also wants to have all tobacco cigarettes made to a standard size and have store-owners display no more than one variety of each cigarette brand.
As of now, it is unclear as to what the EU hopes to achieve by introducing such a ban. Several health-care workers have admitted that while vaping might not be the best of habits, it is certainly working well for smokers as a harm-reduction tool, potentially saving thousands from the deadly habit. Smokers are addicted not only to the nicotine, but to the act of smoking itself. E-cigarettes cater to both these needs – they provide nicotine without any tobacco or smoke, and they allow users to inhale vapor from a cigarette-like device. It is estimated that over 5 million people die prematurely each year from smoking; 600,000 from exposure to second hand smoke. Tobacco is said to be the single most preventable cause of disease and death in most countries today. The use of e-cigs not only reduces the risk of disease in smokers, but also doesn’t do much harm by means of secondhand smoke. They are even lighter on the pocket, with a single pack of tobacco cigarettes costing between $7 and $12, and a disposable e-cigarette (equivalent to two packs) costing less than $8.
Taking these factors into consideration, this directive of the EU seems to lack a solid reason. It could be that they are aiming at a more preventive stance, trying to keep all kinds of nicotine delivery systems out of reach from people. Accusations from some quarters blame funding from pharmaceutical and tobacco companies for the inception of this directive. People are wasting no time pointing fingers at the relationship between lawmakers and pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer. With the rising popularity of electronic cigarettes, other smoking cessation products made by pharma companies face a serious competitive threat.
Incidentally, this is not the first time a government has tried to interfere with the sale or use of e-cigarettes. Earlier this year, the device was in the news following plans by San Francisco officials to include e-cigarettes in the state’s existing smoking ordinance. A specific ban against the use of e-cigarettes has already been put into place in New Jersey, in places where tobacco smoking is prohibited. Several states in the US were said to be contemplating similar action. The EU directive is set to be presented on Nov 12, 2012, before a panel at the WHO Framework Conventions on Tobacco Control. If the ban does get implemented, huge repercussions to the e-cigarette industry are anticipated.