National governments are represented by the Lithuanian Presidency and the EP negotiating team is led by the rapporteur Labour MEP Linda McAvan, along with the shadow rapporteurs from the other political groups. The Liberal group is represented by Belgian Liberal MEP Frédérique Ries, co-author along with myself and Chris Davies of amendment 170 on e-cigarettes.
After the first trialogue meeting which addressed the issue of e-cigarettes, Frédérique tweeted the following:
"#trilogue #ecig: ça va mal, la Présidence lituanienne ne veut rien entendre, RIEN. Pas un geste, aucune volonté! Je bataille contre un mur"
(translation: "It's going badly for e-cigs in trialogue, the Lithuanian Presidency doesn't want to listen at all. Not a gesture, no willingness whatsoever! I am fighting against a brick wall")
However, along with Frédérique, the centre right (EPP) and Conservative (ECR) shadow rapporteurs, German MEP Karl Heinz Florenz and UK Tory MEP Martin Callanan made it clear that e-cigarettes were a red line for their respective groups. If those three groups (ALDE, EPP and ECR) vote along the same lines, they form a majority in the European Parliament and once an agreement is reached on the tobacco directive, it will have to be approved by the Parliament (a simple yes/no vote).
An agreement on the tobacco directive which is not fully supported by three political groups which constitute a majority of MEPs is unwise, and therein lies the hope for sensible regulation of e-cigarettes.
Since the July 2013 position of national governments on the tobacco directive, which included an agreement to support medicines regulation for e-cigarettes, the ground has shifted significantly. Not only did the European Parliament clearly vote against medicines regulation, but action at national level has drawn this matter to public and political attention. In addition, there have apparently been complaints to the Lithuanians that they are going too quickly on e-cigs without allowing national governments the chance to consider other options.
The key country right now is France, which is believed to no longer be supportive of the medicines route for e-cigarettes (and was reluctantly supportive previously), although no official change of position has been announced. In France, 100 leading doctors recently sent a letter to the French government asking them to act on this issue and push for sensible regulation. It is thought that if France changes its position on e-cigs, this may lead other countries to do the same.
The irony of a Socialist government in France opposing medicines regulation of e-cigs, contrary to the position of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, while a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government in the UK supports medicines regulation against its own MEPs, is not lost on me!
What is needed right now from a UK perspective is to get increasing numbers of Westminster MPs to question the government/MHRA position. Some Liberal Democrat colleagues of mine at Westminster including Norman Lamb MP, the social care minister, Dan Rogerson MP and Lorely Burt MP have been doing this as has Conservative MP Sarah Woolleston, who is a GP.
Along with Chris Davies, I will carry on trying to win over LibDem colleagues at Westminster, but this effort needs to be extended to Conservative and Labour MPs too. I would therefore repeat my previous call for concerned individuals to contact their MP to raise this issue (see previous blog: http://rebeccataylormep.blogspot.be/2013/10/e-cigarettes-and-tobacco-directive.html).
It would also be worth noting when you contact MPs that the MHRA is still (as of last week; Jeremy Mean spoke at the e-cigarettes summit in London http://e-cigarette-summit.com/) unable to give more than very vague answers to specific questions about how e-cigarettes could be regulated as medicines. This does not fill me with confidence.....
The battle for sensible regulation of e-cigs is not yet over and can still be won!