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19th Aug 2022

Parliament vaping booths 'too confidential' to discuss

  • The European Parliament buildings in Brussels and Strasbourg may install specialised booths for MEPs who vape (Photo: Vaping360)

In an exercise of transparency, EUobserver filed a freedom of information request to get insights into an internal debate on e-cigarettes at the European Parliament.

The issue revolves around the possibility of setting up specialised booths at parliament premises for MEPs who vape. Vaping is banned at the parliament, outside designated areas for cigarettes.

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Some MEPs are now demanding four new specialised booths for e-cigarette smokers in Brussels and in Strasbourg, an issue being debated among all the quaestors in charge of running day to day affairs.

Polish conservative MEP Karol Karski, who is one of the European Parliament's handful of quaestors, is also supporting a proposal to decorate a cafe "with a series of photographs displaying famous personalities while they are all smoking."

On the surface, the issue appears uncontroversial when compared to the bigger topics tackled by the same institution.

But the response to the freedom of information request by the parliament's secretary general Klaus Welle, the institution's most senior behind-the-scenes figure, suggests otherwise.

Although minutes of the debate are published online, Welle says any public exposure of the requested documents would "seriously undermine the institution's decision-making process".

He also argues that since a decision has not yet been made, none of the three documents linked to the request should be made public.

"Parliament stresses that, in order to prevent its ongoing decision-making process from being seriously undermined, a certain level of confidentiality for preparatory documents is required," he said, in a letter.

Document already published?

But one of the requested documents is a note, which the European Parliament appears to have already released.

It made the document public to this website in January under a similar freedom of information request on the very same issue.

A special tag number, which identifies the document, is almost identical to the one Welle is now refusing to disclose.

The identifying tag numbers are respectively 644.275/QUEST and 644.275/QUEST/CM.

The draft notice released in January was written up by the parliament's medical division.

It states electronic cigarettes and vaping devices "cannot be considered safe".

And it highlights the newly-identified lung disease linked to vaping, known as Evali, as an emerging risk.

"Much like smoke, these aerosols are inhaled not only by the direct user but also by bystanders. This is known as second-hand aerosol (SHA) exposure," it says.

If indeed the same, it is unclear how the disclosure of this document in January is valid - yet then poses a "serious risk" a few months later.

Welle has also refused to reveal two other documents for similar reasons.

One is an email by Finnish far-left MEP Silvia Modig written to the European Parliament president.

According to Welle, her letter is "requesting a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in parliament premises."

But Modig's office, when queried on the email to the president, appears to say the very opposite.

"She feels that e-cigarettes should have their own space for smoking, just like cigarettes have. That's all," said her office, in an email.

The third and final document, which Welle refused to release, is a note that lays out information on existing smoking facilities at the European Parliament.

Apparently, that document is also too sensitive for public viewing.

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