Electronic cigarettes, also known as e-cigarettes, are battery-operated products designed to deliver nicotine, flavour and other chemicals. They turn nicotine and other chemicals into a vapour that is inhaled by the user.
E-cigarettes are growing in popularity in Italy: press and authorities are focusing their attention on such products.
On 28 May 2013, AIFA (the Italian Medicines Agency) issued a press release stating that e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine (i.e. a pharmacologically active substance), should be subject to the same regulation as drugs. AIFA called for minimum-quality standards for e-cigarettes in order to protect consumers' health. According to AIFA, even nicotine free e-cigarettes may pose safety risks due to their use and, in particular, as a result of the by-products of the burning process. Thus, consumers should be made fully aware of the potential risks related to e-cigarettes, which may aggravate addiction to nicotine.
On 4 June 2013, the Consiglio Superiore di Sanità (CSS, i.e. Italy's National Health Council), while holding that there is no sufficient evidence to classify e-cigarettes which contain nicotine as drugs, proposed to the Ministry of Health that these e-cigarettes be banned in public areas (and schools in particular). CSS also discouraged the use of e-cigarettes to pregnant women or breastfeeding women. CSS also recommended maintaining the ban on sales to minors of e-cigarettes with nicotine (established by the Ministry of Health on 2 April 2013) and encouraging initiatives and information campaigns on the potential risks related to the use of such products.
On 13 June 2013, the consumers' magazine "Il Salvagente" published the outcome of a study carried out by researchers at the Federico II University of Naples on substances apparently contained in the refill liquid of six different e-cigarette brands. The magazine reported that the study had determined the presence of heavy metals such as lead, cadmium, chromium and arsenic and other toxic and carcinogenic metals in the liquid contained in the e-cigarettes. Following the outcome of the study, further investigations were opened by the Public Prosecutor of Turin, Mr Raffaele Guariniello.
Smoking is a very sensitive subject and the current debate on e-cigarettes will bring new developments in terms of regulation in Italy.