E-cigarettes qualify as tobacco products and should only be sold by registered tobacconists. This is a verdict of a French commercial court in Touluse from Monday 9th of December 2013. The ruling is subject to appeal but could eventually see the distribution of e-cigarettes in France limited by a state-imposed monopoly on tobacco sales.
The case originates from a complaint made by a local tobacconist against the Esmokeclean e-cigarette shop in Plaisance-du-Touch, a town in southern France. The court ordered Esmokeclean to stop selling and advertising e-cigarettes as it was violating the “state monopoly on the sale of tobacco.” Such a decision can possibly set a precedent for the whole country. Cigarettes and other tobacco products can only be sold in France at registered outlets and there is a ban on tobacco advertising.
According to the Toulouse commercial court e-cigarettes fall into that category despite containing no tobacco. A lawyer for Esmokeclean said the company would appeal the ruling and in the meantime would be allowed to continue selling and advertising e-cigarettes.
“This sets a precedent that says that the sale of all products for smoking is restricted to licensed tobacconists; This ruling implies that other sellers of electronic cigarettes will no longer be able to sell them in stores or on the Internet.”
– said Bertrand Desarnauts, the lawyer for the tobacconist who filed the complaint.
Commenting on Monday’s ruling, France’s Electronic Cigarette Stakeholders Group (CACE) said the court’s decision could put 2,500 jobs at risk if it resulted in e-cigarette shops going out of business. It also claimed that e-cigarettes are “a consumer product and not a tobacco product” and accused the court in Toulouse of having “exceeded its powers.”
Amid growing popularity of e-cigs, there is still no clear policy set by regulators regarding this niche. Supporters of e-cigarettes claim they are harmless and a valuable tool in helping smokers to quit. On the other hand the WHO maintains that potential health risk of using e-cigarettes “remains undetermined.” Indeed, while manufacturers and vendors promote the devices as a healthier alternative to smoking tobacco, little is known about the long-term health risks of using e-cigarettes, and the panel called for more comprehensive studies to be carried out on the possible risks.
A report by a panel of experts commissioned by French Health Minister Marisol Touraine earlier this year recommended that e-cigarettes should be banned in all places where traditional cigarettes are prohibited, such as in the workplace and enclosed public areas. The experts also recommended a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, as is the case for all tobacco products. While the panel called for more comprehensive studies on the possible risks of e-cigarettes, the team nevertheless recommended that smokers’ access to e-cigarettes should not be hampered “because given the current data they appear to reduce damage when replacing the cigarette.” The report also stated, that even if the knowledge on these products is advancing rapidly, there still are many points of uncertainty. In October this year, a group of French doctors signed a letter voicing their support for e-cigarettes, which they said “have helped a huge number of people stop smoking tobacco.”
According to figures from the French Office for Smoking Prevention, there were 141 e-cigarette shops in France as of April 2013, but experts estimate this number could rise to 300 by the end of the year. There is an estimated 1.5 million “vapers” in France, as users of e-cigarettes are known, a number thought to be rising.
In October, European lawmakers rejected a bid to classify e-cigarettes as healthcare products, which would have put e-cigs under strict control in the whole EU. Toulouse case verdict may be seen as a blow to the current e-cigarettes industry. However, as we recently reported, big tobacco is keen to enter and takeover e-cigs. For those companies dealing with state monopoly rules is nothing new and could paradoxically ease the access to the market via existing channels.
[Via Agence France-Presse, France24 ]