Countries including Ireland staged a major pushback against the tobacco industry, which had won over many in the European Parliament to weaken new rules on smoking.
There was a danger that the first attempt to regulate the booming e-cigarette industry, currently worth an estimated €2bn per annum, could fail as MEPs pushed for them to be freely available and contain much greater concentrations of nicotine than in single cigarettes.
But tough negotiations between the council, representing the member states, and the European Parliament overnight came up with a fresh set of compromises that would allow the EU to ban refillable cartridges if three states requested it.
Health Minister James Reilly is an ardent anti-smoking campaigner and is leading the way in the EU by being the first country to produce legislation on plain packaging of cigarettes which would not contain the name of the brand.
He has been firmly against e-cigarettes being sold across counters also, saying they were a gateway to smoking as they were targeting young people, rather than as a means to wean people off smoking.
The proposal now on the table in relation to the amount of liquid nicotine allowed in an e-cigarette should be limited to 20mg/ml, similar to the dose of nicotine from a standard cigarette.
They must be sold in childproof containers with health warnings.
Maximum amounts of liquid nicotine for refillable containers are to be agreed. However, on the understanding that a given electronic cigarette or refill container that could pose an unforeseen risk to health, the European Commission would have the power to ban them if three EU states have already prohibited them.
The original proposal to consider e-cigarettes as a medical device, like nicotine patches, and make them subject to rules for medicines and restrict their sale to pharmacies has been changed.
They will now be considered as a consumer item and may be sold over the counter in usual outlets, but some MEPs believe that in fact the outcome is unclear since they can be banned EU-wide if three countries produce sufficient justification to ban them nationally.
The lead negotiator for the liberal ALDE group, Frédérique Ries, said, “Council and Commission were obsessed by the toxic and addictive qualities of nicotine, which remain in e-cigs, and ignored their value in avoiding cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems connected with traditional cigarettes.
“The provisions unfortunately now favour small dose and single use cartridges over refillable containers though the latter have been widely taken up by ‘vapers’.”
Reaction varied from the European Parliament with British Tories saying it would take the majority of e-cigarettes off the market and would restrict all but the weakest nicotine devices.
Member states representatives meet today to see if they all agree on the final draft with the e-cigarette provisions remaining the main issue of contention.