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PARIS -- A French court ruled last week that tobacconists have the exclusive right to sell electronic cigarettes and the products should be subject to the same broad ban on advertising that also applies to tobacco-based products. The decision shocked the nation's growing e-cigarette industry, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
The commercial court of Toulouse's ruling could influence other efforts to regulate the sale of e-cigarettes across Europe, which is considering whether they should be treated as tobacco products. In France, tobacconists have a monopoly over the sale of traditional cigarettes, but the number of e-cigarette retail outlets has been growing. These stores could close if legislation follows the court's ruling, the news outlet reported.
"The court went beyond its powers deciding on a matter that is not yet subject to law," stated Mickael Hammoudi, the head of a French e-cigarette lobby group. "This puts 2,500 jobs at risk."
In France, the e-cigarette market is expected to more than double this year to approximately $137 million from $55 million last year. Euromonitor International analyst Shane MacGuill forecasts global sales to reach about $3.5 billion this year, with approximately $700 to $800 million in Western Europe, the Journal reported.
As a result of this market growth, France's 27,000 tobacconists lobbied the government for exclusive rights to sell e-cigarettes. There are currently about 300 non-tobacconist shops selling e-cigarettes in France. Meanwhile, Marisol Touraine, France's health minister, has called for the ban of e-cigarettes from public spaces as well as a ban on advertising.
It will now be up to European Union health ministers to determine a regulatory framework for e-cigarettes. This past summer, the ministers determined that liquids for e-cigarettes that contain at least 2 milligrams of nicotine per milliliter should be regulated as medicines, which would limit the sales of these products to pharmacies in many countries, including France, the news outlet reported.
According to European officials briefed on the negotiations, member states may be willing to forgo medicines regulation for e-liquids with a higher nicotine content if the final law contains strict health-and-safety rules. The discussion also includes bans on sweet flavorings that might appeal to younger consumers, as well as bans on refillable cartridges that some regulators believe pose a threat to small children who could accidentally ingest the e-liquid.
However, the European Parliament and some member states are opposed to these proposals and continue to push for medicines regulation.