By Andrew Higgins

STRASBOURG, France In a decision likely to resonate in the United States and in other countries struggling to get a grip on a galloping market for e cigarettes, the European Parliament on Tuesday scrapped health officials’ proposals that the nicotine delivery devices be tightly regulated as medicines. Instead, lawmakers endorsed a more permissive approach to their sale and use.

The use of electronic cigarettes, primarily by smokers looking for a way to kick their tobacco habit, has skyrocketed in Europe and also the United States, with sales growing so fast that some Wall Street analysts predict the battery powered devices could surpass cigarettes within a decade. But the products and their use have quickly outrun any rules on either side of the Atlantic for regulating them.

Europe’s new rules for e cigarettes, contained in a draft law known as the Tobacco Products Directive, fill a legal vacuum around a product whose explosive growth has left regulators and health officials struggling to catch up. Some governments in Europe have tried to rigidly regulate and even ban e cigarettes, but this has led to a flurry of often successful court actions by e cigarette companies determined to defend their product. In the United States, too, efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to devise e cigarette rules have been tied up by industry litigation.

Although Tuesday’s vote is not the end of the rule making process for e cigarettes in Europe, experts say the finish line is now in sight.

The industry is dominated by small operators who import lithium batteries, raw nicotine fluid and other materials from low cost production centres like China. Instead of smoke from burning tobacco, users ingest the nicotine in the form of vapours from the heated fluid an alternative to smoking commonly referred to as vaping. These companies, supported by growing legions of e cigarette users, had lobbied hard against medicinal regulation and on Tuesday welcomed the European Parliament vote as a victory for good health and good sense.

“This is a fantastic result for public health and the millions of smokers around Europe who are switching to e cigarettes,” said Charles Hamshaw Thomas, corporate affairs director of Britain’s biggest e cigarette brand by sales volume, E Lites. “Common sense has prevailed.”

New York Times News Service

Eu bans menthol, targets e-cigarettes

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European lawmakers have approved sweeping new regulations to curb smoking, including limits on electronic cigarettes, bigger warnings on cigarette packs and a ban on menthol.

The European Parliament vote in Strasbourg on Tuesday came after months of bitter debate.

The parliament voted to impose warning labels covering 65 percent of cigarette packs, rejecting a measure for blank packaging instead. Legislators also put new limits on advertising for electronic cigarettes, but stopped short of restricting them to therapeutic use only. They voted to ban menthol as of 2022, among other flavorings.

Tobacco lobbyists decry the regulation as disproportionate and limiting consumer freedom. European officials advocate the benefits to public health, saying smoking related diseases cost about 25 billion euros (US$34 billion) a year and around 700,000 lives across the 28 nation bloc