The EU’s Tobacco Products Directive is, without doubt, the worst thing that’s happened to vapers in the UK. It’s based on bad arguments and misrepresented science, and threatens to wipe thousands of popular products off the market for no very good reason.
The stupidity of the TPD angered vapers enough that they voted to leave the EU at a noticeably higher rate than the population overall. Some polls since the referendum suggest that up to 80% of vapers voted for Brexit.
There are around three million vapers in the UK, and if 80% voted to leave (compared to an average of 52%) that meant 900,000 more votes for the Leave campaign – more than enough to have decided the result.
Whether vapers tipped the balance or not, however, the UK has voted to leave the EU. In among the debates about the single market and free movement, many people are also wondering what the future holds for vapers.
Fans of the EU argue that the TPD has actually protected vapers from stricter UK laws. They say that the British government wanted to class all e-cigarettes as medicines in 2010 and the EU laws are less restrictive.
This is true, to a certain extent; the UK did want to regulate e-cigs as medicines, and that would have been a disaster. It didn’t actually happen, though, and the EU didn’t stop it. The TPD is the minimum restrictions the EU insists on. Any government that wants to go further is free to do so, and the EU won’t stop them.
The British government didn’t go with medical regulation because the government changed its mind.
In fact the UK’s official position on e-cigarettes has moved a huge distance in a fairly short space of time, and it’s still evolving rapidly. Britain is now probably the most vape-friendly country in the world, with most of the medical establishment supporting vaping as an alternative to smoking.
Even if it was true that the EU prevented Britain from enforcing harsh laws in 2010 – and it isn’t – the situation has now reversed. Many UK politicians, and a majority of health experts, think the TPD is too strict. Brexit offers an opportunity to change that.
Some EU supporters argue that Brexit won’t leave the UK free to scrap the TPD and replace it with sensible regulations. If we stay in the single market, they claim, we’ll still have to obey EU laws. In fact this is only partly true.
We would still have to obey single market laws, but it’s far from clear that this includes the TPD. We could also apply the TPD to vapor products sold to other EU countries, but ignore it for anything sold inside the UK.
At the moment, though, it’s looking likely that Britain will keep access to the single market without being a member of it. Most countries have access, meaning they can sell to its members with some restrictions but don’t have to obey EU law except when trading with the EU.
In that case the British government would be free to amend or scrap the TPD if it wanted to; exports to the EU would still have to obey the rules, but they wouldn’t apply in the UK.
So what options does that open up?
There are several, depending on how important the government thinks it is and how persuasive vapers can be. The first is for the TPD to stay as it is. Although it’s an EU law it’s also been turned into British law by an act of Parliament, so by default it will remain on the books. It would still be up to the government how strictly they enforced it, and right now they don’t seem very enthusiastic.
It’s possible that the British version is either using some legally dubious loopholes in the EU law, or even simply breaking it. If the TPD does survive the government could just enforce the parts it agreed with and ignore the rest.
Alternatively the TPD – in fact the UK version of it, the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 – could be officially amended to remove the more objectionable parts.
It’s likely the government would remove the 2ml limit on tank sizes and probably increase the 20mg/ml nicotine strength limit to 24 or even 36mg.
Advertising restrictions could be eased, and the ban on selling new products until six months after they’ve been registered would probably be scrapped. These changes would undo most – but not all – of the harm caused by the TPD.
The best option would be for the government to throw the whole TPD out and bring in a new, British law. Some regulations are needed, but the ideal would be for this to concentrate on quality and safety.
Most of this is already covered under existing product safety laws, so a new vaping regulation could focus on specific e-cigarette issues. A list of banned additives would be a likely option, for example.
At least in theory the best option is also the most unlikely, at least in the short term. The government is going to be very busy sorting out the major questions of Brexit, and relaxing the laws on e-cigarettes seems like a fairly low priority for them. There are some hopeful signs, though. Many MPs and members of the House of Lords dislike the TPD and would love to see it scrapped.
There’s already been a debate about it in the Lords, and if the anti-smoking (and anti-vaping) lobby group ASH hadn’t campaigned hard in support of the TPD it could have been blocked. The next attempt to get rid of it could have more weight behind it.
There are going to be compromises in the Brexit process, and a lot of Eurosceptic MPs are going to be unhappy with some of them. To keep them on side Theresa May is going to have to throw them some bones – and the TPD is an ideal candidate.
It doesn’t have any mass public support, it doesn’t achieve anything and several million people hate it; if May is looking for EU laws that can be publicly sacrificed, this one has to be high on the list. And sure enough, MPs have already said that the TPD is going to be looked at again.
At the moment all this is just speculation; we don’t know exactly what will happen. One thing’s for sure though. Brexit definitely isn’t going to make anything worse for vapers in the UK, and depending on how the government handles it things could get a lot better.
What do you think? Is BREXIT likely to make things better for UK Vapers? Share your thoughts in the comments…