The 8 June is clearly going to be the date at the forefront of everyone’s mind over the coming weeks. But there’s another date soon upon us that has huge ramifications for the UK’s 3m vapers and the vaping industry. On 20 May, the next phase of the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) takes effect.
The TPD is an extensive piece of EU legislation, comprising reams of regulation on tobacco products. What is not widely understood however, is that it also impacts heavily on vaping products, despite the fact they don’t contain tobacco.
Now don’t get me wrong, we’re not opposed to regulation for vaping products. We recognise there are some sensible measures in the TPD. For example, it provides clarity to vapers on quality and safety issues and reassures them that they are purchasing high quality products that adhere to strict safety specifications. Manufacturers have invested over £40m in their products to ensure compliance, which demonstrates our commitment to and ambitions for a market already estimated to be worth well over £600m in sales.
But that does not mean we should shy away from calling out ill-conceived regulation when we see it. Smokers who want to switch to vaping should not be faced with unnecessary hurdles that may hinder their transition. For example, arbitrary restrictions on liquid strengths and e-liquid bottle sizes, and advertising bans akin to those for tobacco products make little or no sense from a public health perspective.
I was in Parliament recently discussing the challenges that we face with MPs, representatives from Trading Standards and industry colleagues. Is the industry ready? Are Trading Standards, the body charged with enforcing compliance, ready? Why are we having to do this in the first place if we’re leaving the EU?
The answer to the first question is yes. We’ve invested heavily in making sure all our products comply with these new regulations, and we stand ready to support the any part of the industry that isn’t there yet. We have largely been left to get on with it, and get on with it we have. Organisations like my own helped form the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA), so that the sector can work together and that’s what we plan to do. We can’t afford for a few bad apples to spoil the barrel.
As for the second question, Trading Standards is a stretched organisation under pressure. It will be important that we work together so that consumers continue to have confidence and trust in our industry and all our products.
But why are we doing this, given that we’re leaving the EU? It’s because we’re a responsible industry. The UK hasn’t left the EU yet, and up to that point we are subject to the regulations that are in UK law.
We’re not calling for deregulation. We welcome and have embraced many of these regulations and standards. It was the industry that called for a ban on under-18 sales. We recognise our responsibilities; we’re not trying to sell our products to kids. We don’t want to sell anything but quality products to adult vapers.
However, there are some changes required. For example, when our own esteemed health bodies already recognise vaping as being at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking, why are we preventing people from making the switch by banning advertising?
Why do we have more strict packaging guidelines than those for bleach? Quite frankly, none of this helps smokers quit. All it does is prolong one of our country’s most intransigent and expensive health problems – smoking-related illnesses.
The Election has kicked the Tobacco Control Plan (TCP) into the long grass once again. But Brexit could be the golden opportunity to do things better, and in our own way, reflecting our country’s health priorities. It’s an opportunity we will be pursuing. However, we need more government support. If we are to maximise the opportunities offered by the vaping category, we need a supportive regulatory framework and a government that’s on side, before the potential prize offered by vaping burns away.