The following article of mine was published on Brexit Central on Sunday 23 July 2017.
The e-cigarette market was, until recently, perhaps the closest thing we had to a genuine free market. A relative lack of regulation, compared to what it is now, allowed the market to innovate in ways we seldom see. As the vast majority of those using e-cigarettes are either current or former smokers, the innovations also have huge health benefits. According to the Royal College of Physicians, e-cigarettes are at least 95 per cent safer than combustible tobacco, and Public Health England has acknowledged that they are the number one quit aid in the country. This is a success story, so you would think that the urge to regulate them out of existence would be resisted. Sadly not, and the worst culprit is the European Union.
E-cigarettes come in many different shapes and sizes. You can buy ones that look like a cigarette (cigalikes), right up to those where you control the amount of wattage that is used to produce water vapour. In these type of e-cigarettes, you have a tank where you put e-liquid in, and a coil that heats the liquid.
From 20th May, it became illegal to sell tanks larger than 2ml. Why? Anyone’s guess, but Article 20 of the European Union’s Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) has dictated thus. It is also now illegal to sell e-liquid in bottles larger than 10ml. I have previously bought liquid in 50ml and 100ml bottles, purely for convenience, and the market favourite was 30ml. Again, there isn’t a good reason why the EU has ruled the way it has. This is particularly puzzling as it is now illegal to sell cigarettes in packs with fewer than 20 in them. Why then reduce the size of e-liquid bottles at the same time?
It is now illegal to sell liquids that contain more than 20mg of nicotine, despite around 6 per cent of vapers (those of us who use e-cigarettes) in the UK using e-liquid greater than that strength. Around 20 per cent of former smokers also start on liquid higher than 20mg in order to get them off cigarettes. This restriction is counterproductive as it will mean current smokers will find it more difficult to make the switch.
There are more diktats on labelling and manufacturers now have to produce reams of paperwork for every type of e-liquid they produce. There are also restrictions on advertising which were introduced a year ago.
The effects are already being felt. If you are a small company, you can’t afford to comply with all of these restrictions. Some have decided to offer a much smaller range of products as a result. It obviously costs more to buy an increased quantity of smaller bottles, and you also have to produce more labels. The restriction the size of tanks doesn’t have a material cost – that is just an irritant for vapers who have to fill up their tanks more often. And if you can’t effectively advertise your wares, it makes it very difficult to attract new customers (current smokers) to help grow your business.
The Freedom Association launched the ‘Freedom to Vape’ campaign last summer primarily to oppose and campaign for a repeal of the Article 20 of the TPD. The campaign’s other aims are to raise awareness of the differences between vaping and smoking combustible tobacco, and to set-up a ‘freedom to vape’ scheme for businesses who welcome vapers.
With this in mind, last year, The Freedom Association asked every council in the UK what its policies were on staff using e-cigarettes. Using Freedom of Information requests, all UK councils (district, county, unitary, metropolitan, London boroughs and the City of London Corporation) were asked if their policies on vaping differed from those on smoking; if they allowed vaping in the workplace; and if e-cigarette users were required to vape in designated smoking shelters. The amount of ignorance shown by councils – who are responsible for public health – was staggering. This is hardly surprising, though, when the EU includes a non-tobacco product in a tobacco products directive.
Some of the restrictions are silly, others are deliberately designed to damage the industry. We have a chance post-Brexit to build a booming e-liquid export market. This will be hampered by current restrictions in the TPD. We also want the home market (which is currently around 2.8 million vapers) to grow because of the obvious benefits of vaping over smoking.
We are fully aware that nothing is likely to change until we have left the European Union, however, we want ministers to scrap Article 20 of the TPD as soon as possible after we leave. Jobs, livelihoods, and lives in the UK depend on it.