World Cup fever may have gripped the nation this week, but the wheels of government keep turning regardless and – on the day of England’s semi-final – the NNA was once again in Westminster fighting the nicotine consumer cause.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on e-cigarettes met on Wednesday morning to discuss the topic of vaping regulation post Brexit and our Chair Sarah Jakes was invited to participate.

The meeting was chaired by Mark Pawsey MP, with Labour MP Kevin Barron and Conservative MP Adam Afriyie also in attendance. More parliamentarians would normally have been expected but what with the World Cup and Prime Minister’s Questions competing for attention on the day, the meeting wasn’t high on an MP’s packed agenda. However, the minutes will be available to MPs and their researchers who didn’t attend so it was important that we presented the NNA’s position on behalf of consumers.

Alongside Sarah were Dr Lynne Dawkins of London South Bank University, Helen Taylor from Cuts Ice, Damien Bove from Adact Medical, John Dunne from E-Liquid Brands and UKVIA and Daniel Pryor of the Adam Smith Institute who recently released a commendable report on the benefits of a liberal harm reduction policy.

The meeting centred around three questions:

1. What is the current impact of the regulations?
2. Which sections are most ripe for change?
3. What should the process of deregulation look like?   

  • Sarah emphasised the much-reported slowdown in the uptake of vaping as a clear downside to the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) regulation of the sector. Several possible reasons for this were discussed, including the restrictions on nicotine concentration, which disadvantage people trying to switch – particularly amongst heavier smokers – along with cigarette style health warnings about nicotine which appear even on products which don’t contain nicotine. Advertising restrictions are also unhelpful in amplifying the message of Public Health England on the relative safety of e-cigarettes compared to smoking. As Daniel Pryor pointed out, there are both gender and age disparities among vapers, which, together with misconceptions about harm held by most smokers, could be corrected with appropriate advertising and other messaging.
  • Sarah warned that the true extent of the slowed uptake of vaping could be hidden by the fact that so much stockpiling of non-compliant TPD products took place because of vendor fire sales prior to regulations coming into force, and that MPs should consider the danger that many will go back to smoking when heavily discounted stockpiles run out. We have yet to see data which is entirely post-TPD so the already clear damage that it has done to the government’s admirable commitment to reduced risk products may yet be revealed to be worse.

    The controversial subject of short fills* inevitably arose, a concept created exclusively by the TPD by vendors serving a beneficial harm reduction market hampered by regulation which is backward-thinking and formed without a proper understanding of how and why smokers gravitate towards e-cigarettes.

    Sarah emphasised that short fills would simply disappear if the pointless restriction on refill container volumes was removed, but that if that wasn’t possible, then they should be subject to standards, but that any standards should not be so onerous as to restrict supply.

    Of course, short fills are an industry bug bear and – although we are mostly on the same page as the vaping market in many respects – we represent consumers and do not agree with disproportionate and heavy-handed regulations on them which would pile more bad rules on the car crash of the TPD. We also disagreed with the previous calls from industry for a “zero tolerance” approach to Trading Standards enforcement, as demanded by trade associations. Sarah made it quite clear that consumers don’t want further enforcement because enforcing bad law does not benefit vapers, dual users or smokers looking to switch.

    We feel that industry would be better served in the long-run by encouraging a deregulation of the market rather than adopting short term positions to protect their investments in complying with damaging regulations.

    When asked what parts of the TPD the NNA would like to see changed, needless to say we delivered a long list:

    • 20mg/ml nicotine concentration limit
    • 2ml tank volume limit
    • 10ml refill container volume limit
    • Health warnings
    • Prohibition on promoting health benefits compared with smoking both in advertising and on packaging
    • Advertising restrictions in general
    • Prohibition on offers and discounts

    We were supported by all speakers, particularly Lynne Dawkins on the concentration limit and the effect of health warnings. Lynne described research her team had undertaken which had shown that vapers compensate for low nicotine strengths by inhaling harder and for longer, and that there is an associated increase in exposure to toxins, albeit still very much lower than exposures from smoking.

    John Dunne was quick off the blocks on the question of what future regulations should look like, quite rightly stating that vaping regulations should be separate from those for tobacco products. Sarah insisted that a separate (from medicinal) route to market for consumer products should be retained and simplified, which would be far more beneficial to consumers what is currently law.

    Throughout the meeting Kevin Barron and Adam Afriyie were passionate in their understanding of the clear benefits e-cigarettes could have if a regulatory framework could be found that would ensure they achieve their full potential. We couldn’t agree more.

    The next meeting of the APPG will be in September, when we hope to get the opportunity to discuss the appalling failings of the World Health Organisation just prior to COP8. We’ll keep you posted.

    *The regulations restrict the volume of nicotine containing refill containers (e-liquid bottles) to 10ml. Consumers find these fiddly, inconvenient, expensive and wasteful. A market quickly developed for ‘short fills’ and ‘shots’. A short fill is a larger bottle (typically 60-100ml) containing diluents and flavourings, but no nicotine, so it does not have to comply with the regulations. The bottle is not filled completely, leaving enough space for one or more ‘shots’ which are 10ml bottles containing 18mg/ml of nicotine, but no flavourings. The ‘shot’ is TRPR compliant but the ‘short fill’ is only subject to the normal consumer protection legislation. The consumer mixes the two together in the larger bottle and ends up with a larger volume of nicotine containing liquid at a cheaper price than buying the equivalent amount in compliant 10ml bottles.