We welcome the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency’s (MHRA) recognition last week of the role electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) can play in helping people cut down and eventually stop smoking tobacco (1).
However, while we acknowledge that it is necessary to tighten up the regulation of electronic cigarettes to ensure that essential safeguards, particularly those designed to ensure the products are not marketed or sold to children, are put in place, we remain unconvinced that medicinal regulation is the correct route to take.
We are particularly concerned about the signal that this decision sends to other EU countries considering medicinal regulation for these products, as less than half the countries in the EU allow like the UK, certain medicinal products to be placed on general sales lists (2).
In countries without a general sales list, e-cigarettes approved as medicines could only be sold in pharmacies making less available than tobacco products. This of course assumes that pharmacists are happy to sell e-cigarettes, something which cannot be taken for granted as there are mixed views among the community pharmacy profession (3). Limited availability of e-cigarettes could force ex-smokers to return to tobacco – highly undesirable for public health.
We believe that insisting that electronic cigarettes should be classified as a medicinal product makes no sense, unless conventional cigarettes are also required to be registered in the same way. The truth is that users of e-cigarettes do not consider themselves ill, and therefore they do not require a medicinal product. If our object is to save tens of thousands of lives from tobacco related deaths each year then persuading tobacco addicts to switch to electronic cigarettes, at least as a first step, must be better than letting tobacco kill them.
The European Parliament is currently considering how to regulate e-cigarettes within the framework of the revision of the EU tobacco directive. We will continue to work closely with our Liberal colleagues and other similarly minded MEPs to come up with a way to better regulate e-cigarettes that would ensure these potentially life saving products are at least as widely available as tobacco products.
Rebecca Taylor MEP and Chris Davies MEP
(2) In the UK, General sales list (GSL) medicines are non-prescription products which can be bought from pharmacies, supermarkets and other retail outlets without the supervision of a pharmacist. Other EU countries that allow the sale of some non-prescription medicines outside pharmacies are, to the best of our knowledge, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Poland and Sweden.
(3) This information comes from PGEU, the European professional body for community pharmacists.