E-cigarettes are tobacco products, rules French court

Photo: AFP

A court in France ruled on Monday that electronic cigarettes qualify as tobacco products and as such can only be sold by licensed tobacconists under French law, threatening to put specialist e-cigarette sellers across the country out of business.


Electronic cigarettes qualify as tobacco products and can only be sold by licensed tobacconists, a French court said in a landmark ruling on Monday that could force hundreds of specialist e-cigarette shops across the country to close down.

The controversial decision was made by a court in Toulouse, in southwestern France, following a complaint by a tobacconist in the nearby town of Plaisance-du-Touch against e-cigarette seller Esmokeclean after it set up shop close by.

The tobacconist claimed that Esmokeclean violated France’s public health code through advertisements at its shop, its on-line store and on its Facebook page.

Tobacco products such as cigarettes can only be sold in France at registered outlets under a state-imposed monopoly, and their advertising is banned. E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco. They heat up liquid nicotine, creating vapour that can be inhaled.

The court decided that, in acting as a substitute for cigarettes, e-cigarettes constituted tobacco products and therefore Esmokeclean was violating these laws.

It ordered the company to stop selling and advertising e-cigarettes, saying that doing so constituted “unfair competition” to registered tobacconists.

A lawyer for Esmokeclean said the company would appeal the ruling.

2,500 jobs at risk

The court’s decision could set a precedent that affects e-cigarette vendors across the country.

"This sets a precedent that says that the sale of all products for smoking is restricted to licensed tobacconists," said Bertrand Desarnauts, the lawyer for the tobacconist who filed the complaint.

"This ruling implies that other sellers of electronic cigarettes will no longer be able to sell them in stores or on the Internet."

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.

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 claimed that e-cigarettes are “a consumer product and not a tobacco product” and accused the court in Toulouse of having “exceeded its powers”.

Electronic cigarettes – battery-powered tubes that release vapour of different flavours either with or without nicotine – have seen a surge in popularity in France of late.

1.5 million ‘vapers’

There are an estimated 1.5 million “vapers” in France, as users of e-cigarettes are known, a number thought to be rising.

However, there has been significant debate in the country over how e-cigarettes should be treated under French law.

A report by a panel of experts earlier this year recommended that e-cigarettes should be banned in all places where traditional cigarettes are prohibited, such as in the work place 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, something the French health minister has also backed.

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.

Nevertheless, 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”.

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