Tuesday 3 May 2016 3:19 pm

How the EU's Tobacco Products Directive has pushed e-cigarettes into the dark

In just over two weeks, 20 May will be a big day for smokers and vapers – but I wonder how many know it.

From that day, EU regulations in the form of the European Tobacco Products Directive will limit the strength of e-cigarette fluid and restrict bottle sizes to a measly 10ml. Tank capacity – i.e. the amount of fluid an e-cigarette can hold – will be limited to 2ml.

E-cigarette advertising will be banned across most media, including print. Cigarette packs will have to contain exactly twenty cigarettes. There is also ban on menthol cigarettes, although that has been held off until 2020.

Tobacco manufacturers must start using so-called "plain" packaging from 20 May. This is a UK initiative which received ample media attention when it was going through, but unless you have a keen ear for EU politics, you probably don’t remember hearing much about the rest.

Read more: Just what has the EU got against e-cigs?

Such apathy does not spur good lawmaking, especially when the decisions are made so far away, and news of the impending e-cigarette advertising ban is only now seeping into the mainstream.

The EU has basically taken its tobacco advertising directive and applied it to e-cigarettes. This means that e-cigarette advertising is illegal if it can cross borders.

TV, internet, newspaper, radio and magazine advertising will all be verboten. That’s a lot of platforms and it is far from clear what the law is trying to achieve.

Read more: E-cigarette advertising ban expected to come into force this week

The tobacco advertising ban was based on the dubious assumption that cigarette advertising makes people start smoking, but even if the same were true of e-cigarette advertising, it is not obvious that this would be a bad thing when you consider that the vast majority of vapers are former or current smokers.

Banning tobacco advertising was a slow process that aroused political debate about the limits of free speech. Those who opposed the ban warned that it would be the start of a slippery slope. The casual manner in which an e-cigarette advertising ban has been waved through suggests that they were not wrong.

Read more: Promote e-cigarettes widely as substitute for smoking, study urges

What are the implications? Cigarettes had been around for over a century when their advertising was banned. E-cigs have been mainstream products for less than a decade. There is much more competition and innovation in the vaping industry than there has ever been in the tobacco industry.

Now, thanks to the bureaucratic over-reach of the EU, vapers will have to discover new products in a market that is not quite black but certainly dark.