The deal, which has not been finalised, could see all e cigarettes with over 20 milligrams of nicotine brought under new restrictions.

The European parliament is understood to be content with the use of refillable nicotine cartridges, but member states such as Britain and Germany are concerned that the cartridges can contain up to 10 milligrams of nicotine the equivalent of a carton of 200 cigarettes.

If refillable e cigarettes are prohibited in at least three member states, the commission would be able to extend the ban to all member states.

If the talks fail, e cigarettes would remain unregulated, providing a sigh of relief to an industry which could outperform the f700 billion cigarette market within ten years.

Proposals for all electronic cigarettes to be controlled by pharmaceutical legislation were rejected by MEPs.

Liberal Democrat MEP and health spokeswoman in the European parliament Rebecca Taylor said “Significant ground had been won in the rejection of Europe wide medicines licensing. But the decision to potentially ban refillable cartridges and devices in future would be a backward step.”

Euromonitor currently puts the value of the market at f2 billion, but a surge of investment from big tobacco firms like Philip Morris owner Altria, British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco show there is widespread belief that electronic smoking could offer a popular substitute to the real thing.

A study published in the Lancet this year showed shifting to e cigarettes makes smokers at least as likely to quit as using nicotine patches and other research projects also suggest a significantly higher success rate than more traditional nicotine replacement options, like gum.

There are concerns around the safety of the product, however. A study presented at the American Society of Cell Biology in New Orleans showed prolonged exposure to nicotine, either through normal smoking or by e cigarettes, may damage the heart.

E-cigarettes escape stricter european regulation : nature news blog

More red 120′s cigarettes

Europe has shied away from regulating electronic cigarettes (‘e cigarettes’) as medical devices.

Tobacco control researchers have been furiously debating the safety and desirability of these products, which have surged in popularity over the past year (see ‘Regulation stacks up for e cigarettes’).

The European Commission had proposed to regulate e cigarettes as medical devices, as part of a major revision of tobacco control in the European Union (EU). But after negotiations this week, it seems that the nicotine inhaling devices will instead fall under the same rules as other tobacco products.

Some scientists believe that e cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, and thus can help reduce the burden of disease from tobacco smoking. But others counter that with few controls on advertising and sales, the devices will make smoking socially acceptable again and that they can provide a gateway to conventional cigarettes for young people.

Politicians in the European Parliament have been pushing to have e cigarettes regulated as medical devices and therefore subject to tougher controls only when their marketing makes health claims (see ‘Europe on collision course over e cigarette legislation’). And they seem to have won over the other arms of the EU the Council of Ministers and the Commission although formal sign off on the deal is still required before it comes into force in 2014.

Tonio Borg, the EU health commissioner, said today that the agreement reached yesterday will put in place clear safety and quality standards for this growing sector of the market .

The deal will also mean all cigarette and tobacco products will have to have health warnings covering 65% of their packaging. Flavoured tobacco including menthol cigarettes will be banned.