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 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 ($34 billion) a year and around 700,000 lives across the 28 nation bloc.

The eu’s tobacco promotion directive

D l discount cigarettes – westminster, ca

Yet the MHRA itself has been at the forefront of pushing for greater regulation. In June 2013, MHRA confirmed plans to regulate e cigarettes as medicines in a way that, from its own analysis, threatens thousands of lives. This is despite the fact that the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM), which the MHRA offers as authority for its e cigarettes policy, equates 34 per cent annual growth in e cigarette usage to saving 2,000 smokers lives. Every year of growth at these rates will save more.

This push for medicinal regulation also flies in the face of public opinion. In 2011, the MHRA consulted the public on the issue. The overwhelming majority 78 per cent of respondents opposed medicinal regulation but the MHRA proceeded with the policy anyway. As a result, the UK has backed the TPD. As for our elected representatives, they were never consulted. Anna Soubry, the minister of health responsible for this area, simply voted to back the plan without referring to parliament. Soubry then squirmed as MPs on the European Scrutiny Committee asked her to justify her decision afterwards, a session which only revealed Soubry’s ignorance of the directive she had voted for. (Soubry has now been shuffled off to the Ministry of Defence.)

How has this mad policy been justified? The phrases ‘insufficient evidence’ and ‘requires further research’ appear throughout the MHRA/CHM material. Despite strong indications that e cigarettes are far less harmful than the tobacco variety, there isn t enough proof that they are completely harmless and insufficient evidence that they are effective in reducing smoking. Medicinal regulation s mantra is establishing quality, safety and efficacy. Through twisted logic, MHRA concludes that doubts about evidence and efficacy can only be resolved through testing, control and monitoring as medicines.

A single strand of the MHRA/CHM argument is reasonable. Testing a few e cigarettes, they found variances between advertised and actual nicotine content one sample had trace toxins. Medical practitioners cannot recommend a product as a substitute for smoking or an aid to quitting unless they know it s safe. Yes, the MHRA should regulate devices provided by doctors. But these observations by no means demand that all e cigarettes should require medicine level regulation.

Far better to regulate e cigarettes as consumer products and to encourage the development of voluntary testing and labelling schemes as already done by the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECITA).

There are some rational voices in the European Parliament who want to overturn this aspect of the TPD. Conservatives and Liberal Democrats sought a balanced compromise on the directive products marketed as medicinal would be regulated as such other e cigarettes would need warning labels, a ban on under age sales and specific quality standards. This compromise was out voted by the Socialist Group in the Parliament s Health Committee, backed by the UK Department of Health briefings for MHRA s ‘regulate everything as medicine’ stance.

Martin Callanan MEP, leader of the European Conservatives & Reformists group, and a prime mover for sensible regulation explains ‘It would be the greatest folly to classify e cigarettes as medicinal products. This would limit their availability when a lethal alternative (tobacco) remains available in every corner shop. Treating all e cigarettes as medicinal products would raise costs, reduce product diversity, slow down innovation, inhibit creativity and make the products less appealing to the very people we hope will switch to them.’

MHRA regulators are well meaning but have tunnel vision their business is medicinal approval and, not surprisingly, that s their answer to the question of e cigarettes. If we continue down this path, the tunnel comes out in a place where I can t get the products that keep me off cigarettes. Years of experience with governments preaching ‘just say no’ show that endless lectures do not work. Deprived of e cigarettes, a million people in the UK may return to smoking regular cigarettes.

Well, at least each pack sold will shove another 4 in tax to the government’s much strained coffers. Frankly, I hope they choke on it.

Craig Arnall is an accountant and management consultant living in London.