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STRASBOURG, France -- This week's vote by the members of the European Parliament (MEPs) has all but put an expiration date on menthol cigarettes across Europe.
The parliament voted to ban menthol and other flavors beginning in 2022. However, in what is considered a defeat to MEPs from the United Kingdom, the members voted against regulating electronic cigarettes as medicines, according to a report by The Guardian. Instead, e-cigarettes will be regulated along the same lines as tobacco products.
In June, The U.K.'s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency said it will treat e-cigarettes as medicines, "so that people using these products have the confidence they are safe, are of the right quality and work." The agency will regulate other products containing nicotine in a similar fashion; however, cigarettes are exempt from the rule, as CSNews Online previously reported.
Health officials and the e-cigarette industry in the United Kingdom are now seeking to clarify what the European Parliament's moves mean -- for instance, whether companies in the fast-expanding market face the same bans on sponsorship and promotion at sports events as tobacco firms. The Department of Health (DoH) would not comment on the advertising issue until officials had studied the MEPs' decisions.
"We are very pleased to see the move toward tougher action on tobacco, with Europe-wide controls banning flavored cigarettes and the introduction of stricter rules on front-of-pack health warnings," the DoH said in a statement to the newspaper. "However, we are disappointed with the decision to reject the proposal to regulate nicotine-containing products, including e-cigarettes, as medicines. We believe these products need to be regulated as medicines and will continue to make this point during further negotiations."
The U.K. e-cigarette industry, which broadly welcomed the parliament's vote, said it was already in talks with the Advertising Standards Authority, but added that it would not be "sensible, proportionate, reasonable or useful" to ban all advertising.
MEPs decided e-cigarettes should only be regulated as medical products if manufacturers claimed they could cure or prevent smoking tobacco -- a decision criticized by the government's main medicines regulator.
In addition to the menthol and e-cigarette issues, the MEPs also approved a motion to put health warnings on 65 percent of each cigarette pack, as opposed to the 75 percent that was initially proposed. At present, the warnings cover at least 30 percent on the front and 40 percent on the back, the newspaper said.
"We applaud the European Parliament's landmark decision that vaporizing devices, like electronic cigarettes, should not be regulated as medicinal products. Such regulation would misclassify the products, subjecting them to regulations intended for a very different category. It would also potentially limit the industry's ability to continuously improve its products through technology innovation," said Cynthia Cabrera, executive director of the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA), based in Hallandale Beach, Fla.
"In addition, we are in agreement with the European Parliament's decision to restrict the sale of electronic cigarette products to minors, and we support any effort -- domestic or otherwise -- made by legislative agencies and organizations to keep electronic cigarettes out of the hands of underage consumers," she continued. "Electronic cigarettes are intended for and should only be available to adults."
SFATA is dedicated to the advocacy, education and reputation of the electronic cigarette industry. The association's primary concern is the fair regulation of electronic cigarettes in a way that creates an even playing field for all companies in the market.