Government regulation - is this the end of the cheap, safer cigarette alternative?

Electronic cigarettes are big business - a £100m industry involving hundreds of manufacturers, many small businesses. Only recently Citigroup hailed ecigs as a technology that would make waves in the smoking industry. Now, they are under threat of extinction as a viable alternative to smoking as the Government take steps to regulate ecigs as medicines.

In a recent press release, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has said that electronic cigarettes will be classified as NCPs (Nicotine Containing Products) and treated in the same way as quit smoking aids such as patches and gums. Whilst, they will still be able to be sold in supermarkets, newsagents, etc without prescription, manufacturers will have to seek a licence and will be banned from advertising them to under 16s. Product labels will also have to include sign-posting to support services for quitting smoking.

Some of the rediculous arguments for regulating electronic cigarettes that the MHRA press release contains include:

  • The Government's decision to licence ecigs as medicines is to support smokers to cut down and to quit smoking (well most electronic cigarette smokers just want an alternative to smoking, not to quit! In fact, the MHRA revealed that 1000+ former smokers had wrote to them during the consultation over regulation warning that if e-cigarettes were banned they would return to smoking tobacco.)
  • It's not about banning products that some people find useful (what a joke!)
  • Regulation will prevent promotion to children and non-smokers (what, lets see some examples of this happening please)
  • The levels of nicotine do not always match that stated on the label (nobody has ended up in hospital, died or suffered any ill consequence at all from ecigs so this is just scare mongering)

The MHRA themselves say that smoking is the single biggest cause of avoidable death killing 80,000 people each year. Electronic cigarettes have been proven to be just as safe as gums etc, and anecdotally more effective than gums etc. at helping people quit. Yet, the Government spin team is trying to convince the unassuming public that it is a good idea and in their interest to make electronic cigarettes (the only real alternative to tobacco cigarettes) more expensive, and less readily available. All that making this real alternative go away is going to do is force people back to smoking (the people that wrote in to the consultation have already said that). This is the only possible outcome as nothing has made people those without a desire to quit turn away from smoking more than the electronic cigarette - not the smoking ban, not gums, patches etc.

In addition, regulating electronic cigarettes as medicines will inevitably result in a black market for the item which is likely to be far far less safe than anything available currently.

It looks like the Government will get its way to protect its income stream from tobacco tax. Well at least there is a two year reprieve as the UK Government will press for EU wide regulation by way of a revision to the Tobacco Products Directive. From 2016, if the regulation goes through (chances are it will) all NCPs including ecigs will require a medicine licence.

UPDATE

On 10 July 2013, the European Parliament's Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) voted voted in favour (44 to 27) of regulating electronic cigarettes as medicines.

Wirral's UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall said after the vote:

"Cigarettes kill people and it is plainly wise for smokers to give them up. E-cigarettes, which help smokers quit, kill no-one but here we have them being effectively banned. This is just crazy nonsense."

"If they were really serious about the health of EU citizens they would ban cigarettes altogether. But instead they actually subsidise tobacco production in countries including Greece and Bulgaria."

The proposal is now to go before the EU plenary session in September for approval.

UPDATE 27 FEBRUARY 2014

The European Parliament yesterday approved new rules for electronic cigarettes and e-liquids that will come in to play mid 2016. The main changes will be:

  • The maximum concentration of e-liquid will be restricted to 20mg/ml.(Currently we sell concentrations up to 24mg/ml although concentrations as high as 32mg/ml are available.)
  • The maximum size of refill bottles will be 10ml (only a 2 day supply for heavy users).
  • Cartridges, tanks and containers of nicotine liquids will have to be child and tamper-proof and protected against leakage. (No product currently on the market meets this requirement)
  • Only e-cigs that provide a consistent dose of nicotine will be allowed.
Other than the above main restrictions, the following additional points were also agreed in the new rules:
  • refillable e cigarettes will be banned if 3 member states choose to restrict them.
  • strict new rules on advertising and labelling
  • a requirement for manufacturers to report statistical data annually to member states.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU:

  • Your choice of electronic cigarette devices will be much reduced. It is likely that the refillable tanks will need to be replaced with sealed replaceable cartridge varieties that cannot be refilled.
  • Your choice and flavours of e-liquids will be significantly reduced.
  • The higher strengths of liquids that heavier smokers switching to electronic cigarettes need to satisfy their cravings will not be available to them.
  • Costs of electronic cigarettes and e-liquids will certainly rise.

There is still time to make your voice heard. If you want to save ecigs Contact your local MEP to let them know your views and share this article to make others aware.

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