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Environment

French tobacconist sues e-cigarette vendor for unfair competition

media E-cigarettes - where does the law stand? Reuters/Charles Platiau

A French tobacconist has sued a shop selling e-cigarettes for unfair competition. As the European Union prepares to tighten anti-smoking laws, lawyers on both sides say there is a "legal vacuum" concerning electronic cigarettes.

The plaintiff, who runs a tobacconists in Toulouse, south-west France, is suing a nearby shop, called Esmokeclean, which opened in June.

He accuses its owners of breaching the legal monopoly on the sale of tobacco products in accredited outlets by promoting their wares in their shop, on Facebook and on their internet site.

E-cigarettes "recall the act of smoking", he argues, and cites Health Minister Marisol Touraine's declaration during the debate on restrictions of e-cigarettes's use that they should be subject to the same laws as tobacco.

He wants the ads banned and Esmokeclean to be fined 1,000 euros for every day it continues to promote its business.

"I don't deal in the same product as them at all," argues one of Esmokeclean's owners, Reynauld Pirat and his lawyer, Benjamin Echalier, finds the case "ironic" since "with them it's addiction, with us it's the cure".

Prosecution lawyer hopes that the case will create jurisprudence in a realm that both sides agree is now covered by a "legal vacuum".

Amid controversy as to how safe e-cigarettes are, Touraine has maintained limits on their use in public and forbidden their sale to adolescents.

The European parliament this month rejected a call to limit the sale of e-cigarettes to pharmacies but maintained a ban on sale to minors.

Three million Europeans are reported to have tried e-cigarettes.

French tobacco sales fell 4.9 per cent in 2012.

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