School-bus drivers strike in Boston
School-bus drivers in Boston walked off the job yesterday morning, creating a work stoppage that left thousands of the city’s 33,000 schoolchildren stranded at bus stops or at home. It remains unclear exactly how many students made it to school on Tuesday, since about 30 of the city’s 650 buses continued to operate over the course of the day. Parents and guardians drove their children to school when possible, but in some cases, Boston police transported students stranded at bus stops to school.
Boston city officials considered the strike illegal and articulated hopes early Tuesday that the crisis would be managed in time for buses to transport students home in the afternoon, but negotiations did not materialize. Officials canceled all after-school activities in the district and announced that they would seek an injunction that ordered drivers back to work Wednesday morning.
The bus drivers are using the strike to protest policies of Veolia Transportation, Boston’s new transit partner, which they say limited their ability to do their jobs. Representatives of the bus drivers accuse Veolia of changing work conditions and failing to provide them with new route information. Drivers are also protesting changes in their health care plan and indicated that they were unhappy with a new smartphone app that allows parents to track the movement of buses.
European lawmakers reconsider restrictions on electronic cigarettes
The European Parliament rejected health care officials’ proposals that nicotine-delivering devices be tightly regulated as medical devices in their session yesterday. Ultimately, the parliament voted to make nicotine-delivery devices more accessible, although the products will remain unavailable to citizens younger than 18. As anticipated, the parliament also approved measures adopted earlier this year by European Union officials and banned conventional cigarettes with menthol flavoring. They required that cigarette packs carry health warnings in pictures and text covering between 40 and 65 percent of the package.
However, even within these changes, the most anticipated vote regarded the use of electronic cigarettes. With the explosion of e-cigarettes in the United States and Europe, particularly as a method for smokers to wean themselves off tobacco, regulating the industry and its health effects has struggled to keep pace with the growth in sales. Europe’s new rules for e-cigarettes, enumerated in a drafted law named the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), exempt the devices from the certification process required of drugs but demands tight restrictions on advertising and sponsorship. As the market for electronic cigarettes and related paraphernalia is currently estimated to be worth $650 million, the limits applied to the industry have significant ramifications in terms of capital.
The parliament’s decision will not completely end what has turned into the most contentious regulatory battles in the 28-county union in years. In order for their Tuesday vote to become permanent legislation the European Commission, the union’s Brussels-based executive arm, and the European Council, which speaks for member governments, would have to sign off on it. If ratified by the Commission and the Council, individual member countries would have several years to adjust their national policies to conform to the new E.U. regulations.
The negotiations between the Parliament, the Commission and the Council involve tensions because the latter two want e-cigarettes to be treated like medicines. Fourteen countries in the E.U. have agreed to go this route, but two others – Greece and Lithuania – currently ban e-cigarettes without qualification. Deliberations will continue as the results from Tuesday’s vote further materialize.