A draft directive has been published by the European Commission. It covers a proposal to ban on tobacco products and alternatives to cigarettes like e-cigarettes.

The draft, published in Dec. 19, 2012, is an offshoot of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), which was adopted in June 5, 2001. The revision of TPD is being done to achieve three main objectives:

• Update harmonised areas on new market, scientific and international developments
• Address product-related measures that have not yet been covered by TPD
• Ensure that TPD provisions are not circumvented with the entry of products that are not compliant with the TPD

Implications of the TPD revisions

What does it mean for e-cigarette users? The revision on the TPD means the European Commission would also regulate products that do not necessarily contain tobacco, but are associated with smoking like herbal and e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes that contain levels of nicotine that is higher than a certain threshold would only be allowed if these have been classified as pharmaceuticals. Herbal products for smoking would also be required to carry warning labels and show consumers their health risks.

It seems that the European Commission has not considered the possibility that regulating the use of e-cigarettes may push smokers into a corner. Many of those who are trying to quit smoking tobacco products have turned to e-cigarettes but with the revisions, where would they turn to?

In the UK, the government’s ‘nudge unit’ has encouraged the use of e-cigarettes despite these products being banned in many countries. In a story that appeared in the Guardian in September 2011, the Cabinet Office’s behavioural insight team said that the cold-turkey approach no longer works.

The nudge unit also wants to explore new products that may deliver nicotine but not necessarily the harmful toxins and carcinogens.

The public speaks

Advocates of electronic cigarettes are airing their concerns over the revisions of the TPD. A commentary in Europolitics argues the revisions punishes users of tobacco instead of coming up with a framework that would improve health.

National Center for Public Policy Research Jefft Stier and Colubia European Legal Studies Center scholar in residence Dr. Karine Caunes cited the example of the continuous ban of snus, one of the least harmful tobacco forms. The two said the revision deprives smokers other alternatives to cigarettes.

“The proposal even bans e-cigarettes, a clearly less harmful alternative that appeals to many smokers,” they said. The two added that the “mockery of the consultation process deprives the TPD of credibility and legitimacy.”

The Guardian’s Lionel Shriver also argues that anti smokers cannot accept the fact that e-cigarettes offer a viable alternative for smokers. A self-confessed e-cigarette convert, Shriver said that rabid anti-smokers argue that e-cigarettes would re-normalize smoking.

She, however, stated that if e-cigarette use becomes a socially acceptable, then “lung cancer and emphysema would plummet.” She added that the real evil is to deny smokers to opportunity to switch to a product that is 99 percent harmless.

What can you do?

The EU parliamentary committee will meet on Feb. 25 to discuss the directive. If you are an e-cigarette user, you can write to your MP/MEP and let your voice be heart. If you are not sure who your MP/MEP is, enter your UK postcode at Write to Them.

E-cigarette retailers, meanwhile, should encourage their customers to write their MP/MEP. Spreading the word to as many people as possible can make a difference.

Clive Bates also offers useful tips on what to say and what to do. In a nutshell, here are the things you can do to make your opinion heard:

1. Write both to your MP/MEP. MPs can encourage government ministers to influence the directive while MEPs can yield influence over the European Parliament.
2. Send your letter to Write to Them.
3. If you want to send a hard-copy letter instead, use the MP/MEP information found at Write to Them.
4. In your letter, make sure you argue your points well. If you have research and data to back up your arguments, better.
5. Be personal. Share your experience when you tried to quit smoking and switched to e-cigarettes. Tell your MP/MEP the benefits you reaped from switching to alternative products. Write how different your life would be without these products.

Additionally, you can also encourage more e-cigarette users to let their opinions heard. You can send letters to newspapers and voice out why you are not in favour of the directives. You can also participate in online forums or email the European Commission.

Remember that the EU parliamentary committee would meet on Feb. 25. The more things you do and the sooner you act, the better.

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