In the Netherlands, the sale and distribution of electronic cigarettes is allowed, and there are no specific rules and regulation that apply to nicotine content of the liquids used. Our current Minister of Health Edith Schippers and her predecessor Ab Klink tried to regulate nicotine containing e-cigarettes as medicines (as with NRTs), but were overruled in the courts several times.

Ultimately the Court in The Hague ruled in 2012 that nicotine containing e-cigarettes are not considered to be a medicine.

According to the Court, there is no proof that there is a significant pharmacological effect from an e-cigarette compared to the use of coffee, wine or regular cigarettes. Also the Court recognized that e-cigarettes are used as a substitute for a regular cigarette, and not as a nicotine cessation product. Therefore, by the definition of medicines as set out in EU directive 2001/83, medical regulation of e-cigarettes was considered disproportionate and an illegal and wrongful act by the Dutch government.

In Belgium however, the Minister of Health Laurette Onkelinx, banned e-cigarettes in 2007 by ministeral decree directly when they were introduced on the market. She applied the same flawed logic as used in the Netherlands, and decided that they can only be sold in pharmacies, and not online (as medicines are not allowed to be sold online in Belgium). To date, this decision has not been challenged in court, and is actively carried out by the Belgian federal government.

Sale (and private import) of e-cigarettes that do not contain nicotine is allowed, but importing any e-liquid with nicotine is considered a criminal offense punishable with huge fines and even imprisonment. The vapers from Belgium are outlawed, and have the choice to keep on smoking tobacco or break the law and drive to France, the Netherlands or Germany to purchase their nicotine e-liquids.

Because of this, the smokers from Belgium who try out an e-cigarette normally often only come into contact with zero-nicotine liquids that do not satisfy nor convince the switch to e-cigarettes is worth it.

Surprisingly however, as many as 50,000 people in Belgium are said to be using electronic cigarettes regularly, compared to at least over three times that amount in the Netherlands (exact figures are not available unfortunately).

Both governments are – even after the recent EU plenary vote in Strasbourg – pushing for medical regulation, and the widespread and often repeated negative “news reports” about electronic cigarettes are not helping. Often an old FDA report is brought to the table, and even more often, nicotine is singled out as being “the most addictive drug known to mankind”, even said to be a carcinogen. It seems as if fact-free policy is the standard in both our countries.

In the Netherlands, the shishapen or e-shisha has stirred up a debate, focusing on the device being a possible gateway to smoking for children. Research is piling up showing that this gateway effect is not true, but those reports do not reach the mainstream media and are ignored by the self-proclaimed health organizations.

The number of users of electronic cigarettes in the Netherlands and Belgium keep rising month by month, as they do in every European country.

In the Netherlands shops are opening up all over the country (and online). In Belgium, several shops secretly sell e-liquids with nicotine, only known to the vapers who shop there.

A lot of work has to be done in both countries ; the Dutch vapers need to fight to retain the current situation, while the Belgian vapers need to fight the nicotine-ban.

Facts, science and logic show that electronic cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking, but the exit from smoking. Facts and science show that electronic cigarettes are an infinitely less harmful alternative to smoking. Facts, science, the law and logic show that nicotine containing electronic cigarettes are not medicines and are not harmful in the concentrations and amounts used with vaping.

That information needs to be gathered and distributed in both Belgium as well as the Netherlands, to make sure that the current and future smokers of our countries have access to alternatives.

Our numbers are growing each month. Acvoda will help strengthen and focus advocacy for e-cigarettes.