Enjoy vaping while you still can, warns Public Health England

Pharma-friendly EU clampdown threatens suppliers with banhammer

Analysis Yesterday's review by Public Health England on vaping made front-page news, shaming much of the professional health clerisy and the mainstream media, both of whom have campaigned to discourage use of the nicotine delivery tech.

But the newspapers splashed with something Public Health England didn't recommend – e-cigs on prescription – while ignoring Public Health's clear warnings about threats to vaping.

The dossier by Public Health England – a UK government body – wrapped up four studies, and concluded that vaping is a powerfully effective tool for smokers to cut down or quit altogether. It also demolished the tabloid myth that e-cigarettes are a "gateway" for non-smokers to start consuming nicotine: vapers are former smokers, or smokers who wish to stop smoking.

Latest estimates suggest that there are more than two and a half million vapers in the UK, and a third have stopped smoking, making it the most effective cessation product ever invented. (If British smokers switched to e-cigarettes, 5 million premature deaths would be avoided, according to one prof.) Recognising this, Public Health recommended sweeping changes to the UK's tobacco reduction strategy, of which e-cigarettes are not yet a part.

But it also warned of threats that could strangle e-cigarette adoption, threats of which most of the UK vapers seem unaware. Missing from the yesterday's headlines were Public Health's misgivings about the future. E-cigarette use has hit a plateau in the UK (perhaps as a result of tabloid misinformation) and further adoption of the technology could be thwarted by regulation.

The United Nations (via its WHO arm) wants to ban e-cigarettes globally. In the UK, the immediate threat is from the EU, whose regulatory response is only slightly less potty.

E-cigarettes today are a consumer product, not a highly regulated medical product. But thanks to the efforts of a Labour MEP, that will soon change. The EU has revised the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD (2014/40/EU), or "TPD2", which must come into force by May 2016.

TPD2 bans liquids being sold in bottles larger than 10ml, and any liquid stronger than 20mg/ml of nicotine (smokers looking to quit often start with 24mg/ml) and restricts the size of tanks. Manufacturers will also have onerous testing, reporting and monitoring obligations. Advertising the products will be prohibited. If that's not bad enough, the real Devil's in the detail: a manufacturer or supplier will need to inform the regulator of every new product six months in advance, while every change also needs six months' notice.

A Blackburn-based company – Totally Wicked – is challenging the legality of TPD2 in the European Court. TPD2 prohibits all cross-border trade in vaping products, which rather runs counter to one of the EU's "four pillars": the free movement of goods.

Next page: Flawed assumptions

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