A statement obtained by the press indicates that Europe is preparing to impose stricter bans on electronic cigarettes, known as e-cigarettes, by treating them like regular tobacco cigarettes.

According to the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph, a leaked document from the European Commission recognizes the “risk that electronic cigarettes can develop into a gateway to normal cigarettes.” The policy development means that the commission hopes to include this alternative to smoking as part of EU’s new “tobacco products directive.” Specifically, electronic cigarettes will be treated as a “tobacco related product,” and as such, “be regulated within this directive” by 2017.

The commission’s proposal aims to ban e-cigarettes that release levels of nicotine that exceed 20 milligrams per millileter; allow for refillable cartridges; or provide a taste that imitates tobacco, the Telegraph reported. Altogether, these restrictions would outlaw all e-cigarettes that are currently on store shelves.

“Only flavors which are authorized for use in nicotine replacement therapies can be used in electronic cigarettes, unless such a flavour is particularly attractive to young people and non-smokers,” the document said, according to the Telegraph.

A day before the release of this leaked commission document, the Netherlands moved ahead and officially recognized e-cigarettes as being just as harmful as regular cigarettes, according to Reuters.

The announcement was made by the Dutch Health Ministry and is based on findings by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health. The ministry’s policy statement emphasized the lack of existing data concerning the health effects of e-cigarettes. "There is insufficient scientific evidence to be able to say whether the quantities of toxins in the exhaled air are dangerous for bystanders," Dutch deputy health minister, Martin Van Rijn, wrote in a letter to parliament on Thursday.

As part of a policy move to address the health threats of e-cigarettes, Van Rijn stated in his letter that he “will take measures in national legislation in regard to advertising, safety, quality, and labeling of e-cigarettes.” These measures will be imposed before any European health policy consensus about the matter is reached.

Reaching a Consensus About E-cigarettes

Last May, experts gathered at the European Parliament in Brussels to discuss reaching a common economic and scientific policy regarding electronic cigarettes.

At the workshop, Dr Roberto Bertollini, Chief Scientist and World Health Organization representative to the European Union, observed the significant increase in sales of e-cigarettes across Europe ever since their introduction to the market. He also mentioned that the current scientific evidence on the potential benefits as well as risks of these alternatives is inconclusive. In particular, he said, the long-terms effects are unknown.

At the same meeting, the president of the European Respiratory Society, Francesco Blasi, added that the effects that e-cigarettes have on the lungs remain unknown, as is the extent of nicotine uptake. But Charlotta Pisinger, a senior research fellow at the Research Center for Prevention and Health in Copenhagen, countered that our current knowledge about the health effects of e-cigarettes is akin to our knowledge of regular cigarettes 100 years ago. She noted that an accumulation of small fragments of material has actually been detected in lungs after inhaling e-cigarettes, which could eventually become a health concern.

But a representative of the German E-cigarette User Association, Hans Christian Holy, highlighted the potential health benefits of e-cigarettes by reducing the number of deaths from tobacco smoke. In this sense, he concluded, the opportunity to use e-cigarettes to prevent harm shouldn’t be overlooked.