While Italy Crumbles, the EU Knows Its Priorities

by Iain Murray

Italy is in a state of political chaos, markets are tumbling, the euro crisis is re-ignited, but the good old EU knows where its priorities lie — in an effort to ban e-cigarettes. As The Commentator reports,

On December 19th 2012, the EU produced a proposal for new laws controlling tobacco and e-cigarettes. Under the new proposals, packets of both will likely have to be brazenly branded with warning signs and unsightly images. Fine if you believe this deters people from smoking (which there is scant evidence for), not so fine if you believe that smokers should be more free or indeed encouraged to take up something less harmful to wean themselves off cigarettes.

The proposed EU directive will make it harder for smokers to switch, and will also ban outright the least harmful tobacco products on the market – a product known as ‘snus’. It will treat e-cigarettes as ‘medicinal products’, causing concern over impossibly high standards and regulations leading to higher manufacturing costs. This means that e-cigarettes may no longer be able to compete in a lower, or even the same price band as cigarettes, which would likely cause smokers to think twice about adopting the healthier option.

Of course, the EU isn’t alone. The FDA has been riding this pony for years. As my colleague Hans Bader wrote in 2009:

The FDA is now moving towards banning e-cigarettes, reports syndicated columnist Jacob Sullum. Cigarettes, which contain lots of toxins and cancer-causing agents, aren’t banned, but the FDA wants to ban e-cigarettes, which contain infinitely-smaller amounts of carcinogens, complaining that e-cigarettes contain “detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed” (emphasis added).”

As public-health expert, and tobacco-industry critic, Michael Siegel notes, this is terrible reasoning by the FDA, since all tobacco replacement products now on the market contain small but “detectable” amounts of known carcinogens. The FDA used to be more reluctant to block smoking alternatives that have small or imaginary risks, but that seems to be changing over the last year.

A bill supported by the nation’s largest cigarette maker that was signed into law earlier this year by Obama will keep producers of smokeless tobacco from truthfully telling smokers about the fact that smoking is more dangerous to their health than smokeless tobacco. That will harm public health, as advocates like Bill Godshall of Smoke Free Pennsylvania have noted.

Italy may tumble, the markets may crumble, but the nanny state, it seems, is here to stay.