Lib Dem victory on e-cigs

European Union flagIn the European Parliament earlier today, MEPs backed a Liberal Democrat amendment which will ensure that electronic cigarettes are available for sale on the same basis as tobacco.

The original proposal from the Commission was that e-cigs should be treated as medicines, which would have restricted sales. But the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe  (the Group to which our Liberal Democrat team belongs) argued that they had a major role to play in reducing tobacco-related deaths. The amendment did require e-cigs to meet safety standards and for advertising to be restricted.

We have received comments from two of our MEPs who have been actively involved in this issue.

Chris Davies says:

E-cigs can be a game changer in the fight against smoking.  Hundreds of former smokers have written to tell me that they have helped them give up cigarettes when nothing else worked.

They are successful because they are not medicines but products that smokers enjoy using as an alternative to cigarettes.

Every year 700,000 people in Europe die of smoking-related disease. We should not do anything that makes e-cigs harder to obtain than tobacco cigarettes.

Rebecca Taylor says:

Many smokers have already quit tobacco by switching to electronic cigarettes; today’s vote will help more of them to do so.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Alex Macfie 8th Oct '13 - 5:16pm

    How did Labour and Tory MEPs vote on this?

  • Great – well done MEPs!

  • This is a good result. Well done.

  • I have a query, the BBC are reporting that:

    “The UK has already said e-cigarettes will be licensed as medicine from 2016.”

    If that is true then Lib Dem MEPs are campaigning against this in Europe whilst Lib Dem MPs are pushing ahead with it in the UK.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Oct '13 - 8:25pm

    Today the EU also voted to ban 10 packs of cigarettes and eventually flavoured cigarettes, including menthols.

    Where was the public consultation on this?

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Oct '13 - 9:31pm

    Also, where is this mentioned in this article? It was announced at 2:44 on the BBC so there is no reason to not mention the other parts of the smoking votes in the article.

  • Alex Macfie 8th Oct '13 - 10:07pm

    @Chris_sh: That’s what can happen in a system with separation of powers, perhaps especially when members of one institution form the government there. MPs and MEPs have different jobs to do. Consider Chris Davies MEP disagreeing with Norman Baker MP on the EU Fuel Quality Directive in 2011:
    @Eddie Sammon: This was an elected parliament’s decision.

  • @Alex MacFie
    Well yes it can happen, but I’m sure that I have seen this issue debated on here before and I can’t recall anyone arguing that we in the UK need this sort of protection whilst the rest of the EU doesn’t (I don’t pretend to sit here all times of day and night watching debates unfold, so perhaps I missed it).

    I do seem to recall that a lot of people were making the point that it is common sense to make these things widely available as it isn’t the nicotine that does the harm but all off the various additional poisons. So if medical licencing is required then it will probably put up the cost, which may put it out of reach of a large chunk of people who may want to quit.

  • Stephen Donnelly 8th Oct '13 - 11:12pm

    I am always heartened when liberals don’t ban something, but why is this not a matter for national parliaments.

  • Alex Macfie 8th Oct '13 - 11:31pm

    @Chris_sh: That’s not what I was suggesting. Of course no-one is saying that the UK needs regulation of e-cigs while the rest of the EU does not. Rather, my point is that the Lib Dem party groups in the UK and EU parliaments are different groups of people, who take their cues from separate sets of advisers/allies/bedfellows, and can therefore take opposing positions because they form these positions independently of each other. And the same is true with the other parliamentary parties. In particular, the fact that the Lib Dem MEPs are (i) not part of the UK national government, and (ii) not in any agreement or working arrangement with the Tories means the positions they take are bound to conflict with those of their national parliamentary colleagues from time to time.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Oct '13 - 11:36pm

    Alex it may have been an elected parliament’s decision, but if it wants to keep its powers over the UK then it needs to show more interest in its people and less interest in itself.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Oct '13 - 9:22am

    @Eddie Sammon: And what makes you suppose that the UK Parliament has any more interest in its people than the EU Parliament? If anything I have more respect for the democracy fo the European Parliament than for the one at Westeminster, due to the former’s weak party discipline and lack of payroll vote allowing members to actually represent the people rather than ministers (or shadow ministers) and party whips. You ask where was the public consultation before the MEPs’ vote, but you could just as well ask the same for the UK government position. As noted above, the UK government is still seeking to regulate e-cigs as medicines. This was presumably the UK government position in Council. But I’ve never heard of any public consultation by the UK government on this (which doesn’t mean there wasn’t one; maybe there were also an EU consultation; the point is that you cannot accuse the EU of being undemocratic in this sense and not the UK) and there does not appear to have been any vote in the UK Parliament. And if there had been, then it would have been whipped.
    On matters of EU law, I consider the European Parliament much more democratic than national governments, and ours in particular, when most of the time the UK Parliament is not even consulted, and when it is, the party discipline makes it a virtual rubber stamp.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Oct '13 - 10:46am

    Alex you make a good point about the EU possibly being more democratic than the UK. I agree I don’t think the UK parliament is very democratic, which is why in some ways I sympathise with Scottish independence. You could then ask the same question and ask why would an Independent Scotland be any more democratic, but I think the point is that the more powerful the parliament, in some ways the more it can infringe on the rights of the citizen. I think pulling out also brings decision making closer to home and shows people that we won’t just put up with any standard of parliament.

    I’m not a small state libertarian, or even a libertarian at all, but I think the power to pull out of institutions if we don’t like them and make decisions more locally is an important one. I’m not a democratic extremist either, but I just get the impression that democracy has become more about politician power, rather than people power, and that “something” needs to be done.

  • Alex Macfie 9th Oct '13 - 1:13pm

    To answer my own question above, it seems that the centre-left (led by Labour MEP Linda McAvan) voted for regulating e-cigs as medicine. By supporting looser regulation, the ALDE group voted with the centre-right and right-wing on this occasion.
    I find it annoying that questions of exactly who voted for what in the European Parliament is so under-reported. In the media it’s nearly always “MEPs voted” or “The European Parliament voted” for something, with rarely any indication being given of which MEPs formed the winning majority and which did not. It would be useful for voters to be able to make an informed decision about whom to vote for in the election next year. Unfortunately, of course, it is most unlikely that the European election campaign will focus at all on what MEPs actually do ;(

  • nuclear cockroach 10th Oct '13 - 1:17pm

    I am afraid I find myself in the strange position of sort of agreeing with Eddie Sammon on an issue. I don’t believe that criminalisation of drugs contributes to their elimination from society or to reduction in the harm that they cause. Menthol cigarettes, etc., should be taxed heavily, but they should not be banned.

  • Alex Macfie 11th Oct '13 - 1:38pm

    @Rebecca Taylor: Thanks, very useful information. I especially like UKIP’s self-contradictory voting!

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