Most readers, if not ‘vapers’ themselves will be aware of the use, by many, of the range of new e-cigarette devices. These electronic cigarettes are battery-powered vaporizers which simulate tobacco smoking, but compared to traditional cigarettes provide a much cleaner method of nicotine delivery – without the dangerous chemicals and tar.
From May 20th this year, these products will be subject to regulation by the European Union - regulations that have been negotiated for the past two years in the EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). I have received many emails and letters over this time from e-cigarettes users, or ‘vapers’, greatly concerned that these products, that have been very useful to them for controlling or stopping their smoking habit, may be taken off the market.
The aim of the Directive is to harmonise standards across the EU, improve the quality of products and reduce the risk of accidents. The final law that was adopted by a majority of MEPs in the European Parliament last year was the outcome of an agreement between MEPs and 28 national governments and, like so many negotiations, the TPD involved compromise. Many governments – including the UK government – wanted much stricter regulation and wanted all e-cigarettes to require a medicines license, the same as nicotine patches and chewing gum. The Parliament rejected this proposal, voting to regulate them in a similar way to tobacco products which means they can be sold freely, as long as they meet certain safeguards. These include the same advertising bans as for tobacco products, the same cross-border sales rules as for tobacco, better labelling for consumers, and a limit on the nicotine concentration (Parliament voted for 30mg/ml, national governments voted for 2mg/ml and the final compromise was 20mg/ml). For larger concentrations of nicotine, there is an option for manufacturers to develop products under the medicines licencing system if they wish. These products could be available on the NHS in the UK and two major UK e-cigarette companies have already announced they will seek a license in this way.
New regulations are designed to prevent children drinking the liquid nicotine and to prevent fires and accidents caused by exploding devices. They will also establish rules concerning the promotion and advertising of e-cigarettes to deter young people and non-smokers from starting to take up e-cigarette use and then finding themselves hooked to their highly addictive nicotine.
There has been a lot of information, not all of it accurate, about the TPD, suggesting that e-cigarettes were going to be banned or that most products would disappear off the shelves. Although we don’t know the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, we can be sure that they’re less harmful than cigarettes and while they may not, for everyone, be the perfect solution to quit smoking, for many more they are certainly playing a part.
The debate has always been about how to regulate e-cigarettes and the amendments secured by Parliament mean that all kinds of products will stay on the market, but with improved safety and quality controls for consumers.