The signatures had been collected via a website, , which proclaimed itself the voice of the forgotten millions in this debate people who had taken up e cigarettes to stop smoking, and their grateful families.

The website, however, was not quite the grass roots effort it claimed to be. The text of the letter it asked people to sign was drafted by a London lobbyist hired by Totally Wicked, an e cigarette company. The website had been set up by a British woman living in Iceland who had previously worked for the owners of Totally Wicked.

As the headquarters of the European Union, Brussels sets regulatory standards that resonate around the world. It rivals Washington as a focus for corporate lobbying, with an estimated 30,000 professional lobbyists with registered lobbying firms and thousands more who operate beneath the radar.

In this case, a determined lobbying campaign, marrying corporate interests in a fledgling but fast growing industry with voices elicited from the general public, was aimed at a compelling public health issue whether e cigarettes, which deliver nicotine without burning tobacco, should be regulated as medicinal products, just as nicotine patches are.

The stakes were substantial. Although e cigarettes have not been linked to any serious health issues, they have been in widespread use for such a short time that researchers have no basis yet for determining if there are long term risks. The decision by the European Union would set the stage for a debate over the extent of regulation in the United States, where the Food and Drug Administration is soon expected to issue its own rules on nicotine delivery devices. The outcome of the battle in Brussels could go a long way in shaping the competitive landscape of the business in Europe and beyond.

The odds seemed very much against the e cigarette industry. Hostility toward corporate lobbying runs deep in the European Union bureaucracy and legislature. And lawmakers were seemingly on track to categorize e cigarettes as medicinal.

Yet the outcome, driven in large part by the industry s success in mobilizing a wave of support from consumers and using it to apply political pressure to lawmakers, amounted to a big victory for e cigarette sellers, one in which they outgunned not just the tobacco companies but also pharmaceutical companies that make competing products for people trying to stop smoking.

To the delight of companies like Totally Wicked, the European Parliament voted Oct. 8 to scrap proposals by health officials to regulate e cigarettes as a medicinal product, which would have restricted their sale to pharmacies in many countries of the 28 nation bloc and imposed costly certification procedures on producers. The Parliament s decision did not end the argument, but it lifted a big, immediate cloud threatening a business that some Wall Street analysts predict could be bigger than tobacco within a decade.

When the European Commission initially proposed last December that e cigarettes be treated like medicines, the industry immediately realized that we had a very big problem and a big fight ahead, recalled Ray Story, the American president of United Tobacco Vapor Group, an e cigarette company with offices in Atlanta and Amsterdam.

Determined to avoid a precedent that would most likely harden the regulation of e cigarettes far beyond Europe, Mr. Story hired EPPA, an established Brussels lobbying company, and a prominent Belgian law firm, Van Bael & Bellis. They pressed the argument that e cigarettes are not a drug and that any decision to classify them as such would be vigorously challenged in court.

Ireland puts cigarettes under plain packaging

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It is with great pleasure that I announce, ahead of World No Tobacco Day on Friday, that I have received Government approval to begin the process of introducing standardised/plain packaging of tobacco products in Ireland. While many arguments will be made against such an introduction, I am confident that this legislation will be justified and supported purely by the fact that it will save lives, said Ireland’s health minister, James Reilly.

In a statement the minister said that the tobacco industry has to recruit 50 new smokers a day, just to keep smoking rates at the current level.

The introduction of standardised packaging will remove the final way for tobacco companies to promote their deadly product in Ireland, added the minister.

Reilly concluded, plain packaging is one of a number of measures that are required to effectively denormalise smoking in our society. As such this initiative should not be looked at in isolation. Education and awareness, cessation services and extending the smoking ban to other areas are just some of the other measures which I am currently progressing.

Plain packaging, a key part of the controversial Tobacco Products Directive, currently working its way through the European commission has plain packaging as a main theme.

Australia was the first country to introduce such restrictions, in December 2012 and now Ireland is joining them.

Reilly said that he hoped to have the measures in place during 2014.