The wheels are in motion but just how far will the powers that be go to limit our enjoyment of electronic cigarettes?
The dreaded revision to the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) was published on 19 December 2012. Never before had it featured electronic cigarettes as a nicotine containing product (NCP). Briefly, what the TPD would do is to allow the sale of electronic cigarettes containing up to 4mg/ml of nicotine subject to certain labeling restrictions. Above this concentration would not be allowed to be sold or at the very least would require very difficult to obtain authorization (as a medical product).
The European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) have been advised by their legal team that the draft TPD may not be legally kosher and not in the best interests of public health. The proposed 4mg/ml concentration would be ineffective to serve as an effective alternative to real tobacco. Currently, standard electronic cigarettes and e-liquid come in concentrations of 11mg/ml to 24mg/ml.
Just a few weeks ago on 7th May 2013, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) were invited to attend a workshop organized by the European Parliament to discuss the regulation of electronic cigarettes.
It would seem to have been somewhat of a farce involving Roberto Bertolini, a WHO representative and others of a similar ilk making wildly exaggerated claims with no substantial or significant evidence base. Some of the usual ground covered included:
- we do not know the long-term effects of electronic cigarettes (but how is that a good reason to ban them especially as there is no scientific basis for thinking they might; and in any event, tobacco certainly is going to have worse effects)
- e-cigarettes are a dangerous gateway to tobacco cigarettes for minors (again just pure speculation, there is no conclusive evidence to hold this view and minors are way more likely to want to try the real thing)
- the 4mg threshold allows nicotine replacement products (NRPs) like gums etc. to compete with electronic cigarettes (since when were ecigs suppose to be NRPs, they are first an alternative to tobacco)
- dangerous propylene glycol, nicotine poisoning, presence of carcinogens in e-liquid, etc. (in the very rare cases where these were detected they were at such a low-level they would not cause any harm; in fact the levels were similar to those found in NRPs)
There were some voices of reason and common sense at the workshop but they were few and far between.
License: Image author owned
What are electronic cigarettes?
The electronic cigarette (aka e-cig, e-cigarette, personal vaporizer, a nicotine vaporizer etc) is a battery-powered device filled with liquid nicotine that is dissolved in a solution of water and propylene glycol (the stuff used in cigarettes used as props on film sets).
When you puff on an electronic cigarette, a battery heats up the nicotine, which creates a vapor that is then inhaled into the lungs. This gives a sensation of smoke in the mouth and lungs without really smoking.
Although the nicotine is derived from tobacco, electronic cigarettes contain no tobacco.
Why all the fuss?
A cynic like me would say, money!
Analysts say that sales of electronic cigarettes in America in 2012 were between $300m and $500m. Almost insignificant compared to the $80 billion-plus market for conventional cigarettes. But ecig sales doubled in 2012, and are expected to double again in 2013. Bonnie Herzog of Wells Fargo (a bank) believes sales of e-cigarettes could overtake sales of the normal sort within a decade.
Big tobacco do not like seeing the rise of electronic cigarettes â€“ anybody can sell them cutting into their profits. But, they can quite easily switch to selling electronic cigarettes and are doing. By far the worst affected if electronic cigarettes continue to climb in popularity is the tax man.
In 2011-2012, the tax man-made Â£12.1bn in taxes on tobacco products. On electronic cigarettes and liquid they get the standard 20% VAT on sales and possibly import duty at 6%. This is a huge loss. Quite simply, electronic cigarettes are bad for business for tobacco companies and the governments.
What we can expect?
Changes are coming and that is a fact. At the very least we can expect an increase in regulation perhaps a minimum testing requirement for e liquids. At worse, heavy regulation which results in electronic cigarettes being sold by a few big players at prices comparable to real cigarettes. One thing is for sure, regulation will bring with it price rises at remove a lot of sellers from the market.
Nazeer Bhamji is the owner of Uniqbuy. A small retailer of imported electronic products from the Far East specialising in electronic cigarette starter kits, computer glasses and tablet pc.
For a limited time get 20% off any electronic cigarette kits from Uniqbuy. Simply enter ecig20 in the coupon box at the checkout.