May 20th, 2015
The Netherlands is one of the largest exporters of tobacco products in the world thanks to the government’s historically liberal policies toward consumer goods. Since the duty of following tobacco regulations falls on the importer, Dutch companies are able to cater to different markets all over the world with a variety of products. However, the European Union’s Tobacco Product Directive (TPD) seeks to heavily regulate the traditional tobacco market across the continent, and e cigarettes are getting unjustly caught in the crossfire.
About 5 percent of Dutch smokers use e cigs regularly. Whilst other potential Tobacco Harm Reduction products, such as Swedish Snus are banned in the EU (with the notable exception of Sweden), few regulations have existed on Electronic Cigarettes.. However the proposed revisions to the E.U. directive are likely to change that for good. Despite research supporting that smokeless tobacco products like Snus carry less health risks than traditional cigarettes, the products are either restricted or lumped together under the same regulations as combustible tobacco products and the danger is the e-cigs may well come under the same restrictive policies. According to many in Public Health and the e cig industry, the new directive actually goes a step too far by imposing harsher regulations on e cigs than regular cigarettes.
Unfortunately, what began as an opportunity to potentially improve public health and reduce the harm caused by smoking conventional cigarettes, quickly turned into a process tainted by corporate lobbying and cronyism. It has been aired that certain international tobacco companies hired hundreds of lobbyists to work alongside E.U. policy makers to make sure their products received better treatment than the potentially safer alternatives made by smaller companies. Already fearing loss of profits, these tobacco companies appear to want to make sure that no one else can further erode their traditional market.
Understanding the impact of the directive on the Netherlands requires an understanding of how the E.U. works. At present, the E.U. is compromised of 28 nations in Europe. The Union has its own parliament made up of representatives from each country although the extent of participation varies for each nation. When it was established, one of the Union’s chief goals was to better facilitate travel and trade between countries starting with the coal and steel industries. Commissions with representatives across the continent study these issues to make directives and recommendations. The E.U. must hold a vote including all members to approve treaties, but directives and recommendations do not require a full vote. Directives give general guidelines for countries to develop their own laws over the course of a few years to comply with E.U. regulations. Whilst the Tobacco Product Directive has been in place since 2001, member states are expected to abide by the revisions affecting electronic cigarettes from 2016.
The Netherlands: E-Cigarette Laws, Ruling, and Regulation Elements
The revised Directive has several elements impacting electronic cigarettes, including capping nicotine content in all nicotine products at 20mg and warning labels for all products containing nicotine. The E.U. has also recommended the ominous and scientifically inaccurate statement, “Electronic cigarettes can develop into a gateway to nicotine addiction and ultimately traditional tobacco consumption, as they mimic and normalize the action of smoking.” This phrase is especially ironic, considering that other nicotine containing products, such as Swedish Snus have actually been known to decrease smoking rates in countries such as Sweden. Furthermore, containers of e cig liquid will be limited to 10ml, while cartridges and disposables are limited to 2ml of liquid. Another element of the revision is that e-cig manufacturers can make no claims that their products offer a healthier alternative to combustible tobacco products. Whilst most ethical e-cig manufacturers don’t make such “hard” claims, there is a general acceptance amongst many in the Public Health and scientific community that e-cigs represent a potentially safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes.
What Impact Will The E.U. Tobacco Directive Have in The Netherlands?
The Dutch government is proposing earlier, temporary laws regarding smokeless tobacco, that are compliant with the E.U. directive, citing the need for further clarification before drawing up permanent legislation. There are a few rays of light in this situation. First and foremost, science is on our side: Early studies regarding the use of electronic cigarettes effectiveness in reducing traditional cigarette use are very positive. Of course, more large-scale investigations are necessary, but they will require cooperation between lawmakers, scientists and e-cig producers. There is also no guarantee that all member states will adopt the changes; the section of the directive concerning electronic cigarettes is already being challenged in courts. A major producer of e cigs in the U.K. has challenged the legality of the directive and argued that it unfairly places harsher regulations on electronic cigarettes than traditional cigarettes. The European Court of Justice will make a final decision on the directive’s legality during the summer of 2015.
Regardless of the results, the e cig market will persevere, and White Cloud’s product line can still thrive under the directive’s stringent conditions. Nonetheless, we hope for laws that are fairer and based on accurate scientific research rather than biased political decision-making, precautionary principles and corporate influence.