Since the day that scientists and boffins were able to indisputably link chronic lung diseases, heart failure and a surprisingly robust range of cancers with the previously ‘harmless’ habit of smoking, public bodies have been trying to persuade smokers that smoking really does kill.
They’ve used a range of tactics, starting with the equivalent of a polite cough – the ban in public places – to the current more vehement ”you’re all going to die” approach with various medical labels now plastered across tobacco related packaging.
Despite years of legislation and dire warnings the habit has proved hard to quit for many and, whilst government and NHS have thrown millions into campaigns and cessation programmes, getting Brits off tobacco completely has seemed a near futile project.
Since its invention in 2003 – by Hon Lik who watched his own father’s decline due to smoking related diseases – several million Britons alone have swapped from smoking to vaping. The NHS are basically fist pumping and running around with their tops over the head and yet, in the UK, the EU and even the usually more relaxed US, the act of vaping has been hit by a range of regulations and restrictions.
Vaping is 95% better for your health than smoking yet governments have been surprisingly slow to support the industry and vapers themselves. So, what’s the problem?
The TP What?
In Europe the problem is the TPD – the Tobacco Products Directive – the legislation that covers the sale, advertising and use of tobacco products. The TPD came into force in Europe in May 2017 and was quickly taken up by member states. Within the EU, directives of this sort are the basic standard of regulation that member states have to apply – although they can add to regulations ad infinitum if they choose.
Most vapers, and many smokers, might be reading the ‘tobacco’ bit of the legislations title and scratching their heads; what tobacco? Yes, vaping is not smoking yet it’s now covered by the regulations that are designed to stop people killing themselves slowly at great expense to the state. So why such resistance to a product that is rapidly achieving what governments have been claiming they wanted for so long?
Tobacco companies might be the short answer here. Whilst most governments need to be seen to be telling their citizens that they really should stop smoking, vested interests in the massively lucrative industry have a bit more push-and-pull when it comes to persuading governments what to do. For years they had been willing, if not happy, to comply with the tightening regulations. ‘Yes, we’ll stop using pretty packets; OK, you can put graphic images on the packs; fine, fine the warnings can go on, if you must‘. That has been the general attitude from the multi-billion corporations that produce tobacco products, although they’ve fought long and hard against all of those restrictions.
However, ultimately, they gave into the legislation around tobacco, mainly because they were sure of their market; addicts need their fix and the tobacco companies knew their market well. Again, enter vaping; ‘uh-oh’. Nicotine without the added toxic chemicals? Now that sounds like competition. Probably you get the picture here, the new kid on the block, vaping, being hugely less harmful to your health could easily prove to be the biggest bucket of cold water that smoking has ever faced. Originally, the TPD only covered tobacco, but after lobbying by the big firms, article 20 of the directive was introduced to target the non-tobacco products used in vaping!
The US and Vaping
The situation in the US is slightly different – as ever. Traditionally the US has generally allowed its citizens a lot more leeway when it comes to regulating what is good and bad for your health. Whether it’s guns or cigarettes, many American’s feel such deadly pursuits are a human right. In part this may be down to the pioneer spirit of the States and the fact that you pay for your own healthcare in the States might come into it, too. Medical companies and tobacco corporations have a vested interest in keeping tobacco less regulated than it is in Europe.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the central body in the states responsible for regulating the vaping industry. As with the EU, individual US states are also free to implement their own legislation, which means there is a wide range of law affecting the industry across the US as whole. However, in most of the US the restrictions are far less stringent than in EU members states. The most standard regulations restrict vaping to over 18s and, in the majority of the states, as in the EU and the UK, vaping indoors is not allowed in public buildings.
Some states restrict vaping to the over 21s and many online sellers will also place this restriction on their customers. However, restrictions found in the TPD are largely a mystery to smokers and vapers in the US.
The TDP Details
They’re a mystery to many of us in both the EU and UK, too. The regulations restrict e-liquid bottle sizes to 10ml and strengths to 20mg. They also restrict the size of tanks of e-cigarette and vaping devices whilst ensuring that warnings similar to those on tobacco products are also applied to vaping products. All of the restrictions help to make the transition to vaping from smoking more problematic and less likely to succeed, which again, suggests that governments have been heavily influenced by those big firms who would rather see us choke to death slowly, than lose our custom.
Thankfully, in recent years, national health bodies across Europe, including both the NHS and Public Health England, have been clear in their backing of vaping. In a recent committee report, even MPs finally accepted that vaping is 95% safer than smoking and have recommended relaxing the regulations surrounding it.
The Future of Vaping in the UK?
The TPD is European legislation and, although it’s unlikely you’ll have heard it (tongue in cheek) there’s a rumour going around that the UK might be leaving the EU, sometime next year. The impact of the UK’s departure is uncertain – though we’ve been promised blue passports – however, the good news is that Brexit may offer a chance for the government to change its policies on vaping sooner rather than later.
There are already indications that this may be the case, which is good news for both smokers and vapers alike. Whilst the influential tobacco firms won’t go away, or at least not far, pressure is growing from the public, the vaping industry and some hard-hitters like the NHS on the government to change the way it approaches the whole issue. Brexit is certainly an opportunity for the UK government – presuming there still is one – to relax advertising laws, modify strengths and tank sizes. Let’s hope that they prove as willing to make those changes as they did with that passport thing!