E cigarettes first appeared in China in 2003 as an alternative to smoking tobacco, which kills nearly six million people each year. It is an electronic inhaler that simulates the act of smoking by producing mist and with the tip of it lighting up.

The new rules, increasing the legal age from 16 years, will go into effect on April 23. The decision comes following a study ordered by the health ministry, which found that the level of nicotine consumed, even through moderate use of e cigarettes, exceeds the recommended level established by the European Food Safety Authority.

E cigarettes have seen increasing popularity across Italy with an increasing number of retail outlets popping up dedicated to pushing it onto the market. Although the ban on sale to minors is only scheduled to run until October 31, there is a possibility it will be extended as more studies investigate the effects of it.

Several countries, including Colombia, Panama and Uruguay, have banned the smokeless e cigarettes, with lawmakers insisting there was no proof they helped smokers kick their addiction. Earlier this month, France’s Health Minister Marisol Touraine said she had ordered a study looking into the consequences of using the product. The European Union is also currently considering its position.

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The European Respiratory Society (ERS) released a statement in saying based on current information and available research, ERS does not classify e cigarettes as a safe alternative to smoking nor does it consider them an approved tobacco tool or suitable for use in places where conventional cigarette smoking is prohibited (February 2012).

Read the full ERS statement.

Rules to ban menthol and slim cigarettes divide europeans – nytimes.com

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Led by Poland, which also happens to be one of Europe s biggest tobacco producers, a bloc of former Communist countries is fighting a rear guard action against the measures, hoping at least to save slim cigarettes, which are popular with many smokers, often women.

The concern of the rule drafters is that slim cigarettes add an allure that attracts young women to smoking and that menthol cigarettes make it easier for young people of both sexes to start, and be hooked on, smoking.

But Poland stands to lose tobacco industry jobs from the proposed law. Some Polish politicians also worry about seeming highhanded to their sizable number of smokers, an estimated one third of the population.

It s about freedom, to a large extent, said Roza Grafin von Thun und Hohenstein, a center right Polish member of the European Parliament, who is known as Roza Thun.

Ms. Thun said she supported the health impulses behind the draft legislation, but after listening to objections from voters at a meeting in Krakow she decided the rules should be relaxed. People said, When are you going to prohibit us from drinking wine or vodka, or stop us using white sugar? Maybe you will also tell us to go to bed early because going to bed late is also unhealthy.

The proposed rules would also require that pictures of smoking related medical problems and written health warnings cover 75 percent of the front and the back of cigarette packs. This provision, though, may be scaled back after haggling among the European health ministers who will be debating the rules in Brussels.

Any new regulations would require the approval of the European Parliament before becoming law.

Tobacco has been a troublesome issue for the European Union s executive arm, the European Commission, which has run public health campaigns to cut smoking but only recently removed direct agricultural subsidies for growing tobacco.

In December, the commission came up with the proposed tobacco rules. They are supported by Ireland, which holds the European Union s rotating presidency and argues that the legislation would save lives and money.

Approximately 700,000 Europeans die every single year of tobacco related causes, Ireland s health minister, James Reilly, said in a speech this year. Smoking is the largest avoidable health risk in Europe, causing more problems than alcohol, drug abuse and obesity.

The public health care cost attached to smoking in Europe is an estimated 25.3 billion euros ($33.4 billion) each year, Mr. Reilly said. He cited recent studies showing that 70 percent of smokers in Europe began their habit before age 18.

A particular worry behind the proposal is that thinner or menthol flavored cigarettes look and taste less harmful than others, giving people a misleading impression that they are safer.

In Poland, menthol cigarettes make up 18 percent of cigarette consumption, with slim cigarettes adding an additional 14 percent, according to the Polish government.

I think we should not be too dogmatic, Ms. Thun said. We are dealing with human beings, their addictions and their habit. We should help the younger generation not to smoke, but I think we won t achieve anything with a hard line.

Przemyslaw Noworyta, director of the association that represents Polish tobacco growers, said the industry supported 60,000 jobs, many in areas with little alternative employment. Only Italy grows more tobacco in Europe than Poland.

For us tobacco growers, this is a catastrophe, Mr. Noworyta said, adding that demand would simply switch to the black market.

A study by the firm Roland Berger, commissioned by Philip Morris International, predicted that if the legislation passed, the European Union would lose 70,000 to 175,000 jobs and that the black market would thrive.

The report also projected a drop in tax revenue in the European Union of 2.2 billion to 5 billion euros.

Particularly strong effects will occur in countries with large tobacco sectors, such as Germany, France and Poland, the report said. Countries with high demand for slim or menthol cigarettes, such as Bulgaria or Poland, will experience disproportionate losses.