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The ‘Vaping Crackdown’ starts today. This is what you need to know

Armageddon postponed?

Draconian new regulations on vaping come into effect today – but for many vapers, it won’t feel like a crackdown, at least, not right away,

Written into the EU’s revised Tobacco Products Directive were new rules restricting the supply, manufacture and promotion of things which aren’t tobacco products at all, but which have helped millions kick the tobacco habit: e-cigarette technology. These are enshrined in the UK in a Statutory Instrument, the “Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016” (pdf), which comes into effect today.

You could be forgiving for thinking that the TPD/TRPR was designed to make vaping as difficult as possible, without actually banning it outright. Last year Public Health England backed the availability of e-cigarettes on the NHS, yet millions have given up tobacco already via an unregulated consumer product. The EU’s TPD is a sophisticated Denial of Service attack on that consumer market.

Every part of the e-cig supply chain is affected in some way. New liquids and hardware now require a six-month approval period, and approval costs. The maximum tank size is a measly 2ml, less than half of the typical tank size today of 5ml. The maximum nicotine concentration in a liquid is 20mg/ml – short of the 24mg/ml smokers look for when they start to vape. Users of high voltage (“sub ohm”) vaping hardware won’t be effected by the latter, as they use very low nicotine concentration liquids – but the former will present a major inconvenience, as they get through a lot more liquid. And they’ll be carrying more bottles – since the maximum capacity of a refill container size is set to 10ml. So quite perversely for a “health” measure, a lot more people will be carrying around more containers of toxic liquid with them as a consequence. (And you thought the Cookie Directive was stupid and pointless.)

The restrictions on promotion will also have some perverse consequences. Since “promotion” of the products is now illegal, bloggers and YouTube vloggers have been advised not to enthuse too much about the kit they review – and to be on the safe side, not mention the price. The regulations are nicely translated to plain English here.

But compared to the USA, where the Federal Drug Administration’s busybodies have set out to destroy large sections of the market overnight via their proposed regulations or even parts of the EU, the UK may see comparatively much less disruption. That’s down to the implementation – officially explained here.

Because of the huge uptake of e-cigarettes in the UK, a pioneering market for the tech, and an effective and articulate grassroots effort, e-cigarette campaigners have been assured by the Department of Health and the designated approval agency the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) that implantation of the rules will be as light as possible. Local Trading Standards Officers are likely to turn a blind eye.

“The DoH and the MPRA are looking for loopholes,” says e-cig advocate Dave Dorn of VapourTrails.TV.

The Belgian regulator is asking producers for €4,000 for testing a liquid, and requiring separate procedures for each strength in a batch (2mg, 4mg and so on). Here the cost is £150 per batch, and that covers all concentrations in a batch, with an £80 registration fee. (See the fees SI here.) That should make producing e-liquids economic. It’s far lower than was feared some three years ago, when it appeared only big companies could afford to stay in the game (or enter the game – high fees simply ensure survival for today’s tobacco companies, rather than the diverse market we have today).

There’s a six-month grace period for producers before applications (for new products) need to be sent up to the MHRA. Any liquids produced before 20 November can continue to be sold. Only by the 19 May 2017 will non-TPD compliant products need to be removed from the shelves.

The most immediate impact will be on British exporters, as the cross-border regulations nominally designed to ease trade actually tie it up in knots.

Dorn thinks higher-concentrate liquids should be continue to be obtainable through word of mouth channels, rather than overt channels like eBay, or in the e-cig shop itself. But with anti-vaping fanatics eager to see the practice stamped out, only a repeal of the TPD/TRPR itself will ensure the long-term market.

Ensuring the survival of that market requires new organisations, hence the creation of the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) as a grassroots network for users, and the IBVTA for producers, to ensure big tobacco doesn’t muscle its way into the market, and muscle everyone else out. The IBVTA is chaired by Fraser Cropper, the former Naval Officer who runs e-cig merchant Totally Wicked, the producer that unsuccessfully challenged the TPD in the European Court.

The freewheeling days of vaping are probably over, though, just as the real battle is getting started. Vaping is an astonishing example of mass grassroots self-organisation, with millions giving up tobacco without the help of Nanny. And Nanny hates it. ®

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