The year 2014 was for all intents and purposes a massive and significant year for ecigs and vapers. The level of media attention and public awareness of ecigs throughout 2014 reached new highs (and many lows!). This was all epitomised by the word “vape” being awarded the Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year. Despite the ecig industry being restricted in claiming ecigs are an effective quit, the use of ecigs overtook traditional NRT products as the primary choice for smokers attempting to stop.
Personally in 2014 I also celebrated my two year anniversary of being a full time vaper. Considering that I never intended to stop smoking is perhaps testimony to just how effective ecigs can be. From a die hard 38 year tobacco smoker to total abstinence overnight and my experience isn’t uncommon or unusual. I was gifted an ecig (thank you sister) and from the first day of using it I knew that I simply had no need to smoke tobacco again.
The “ecigs save lives” sticker on the back window of my car describes exactly how I feel about ecigs and vaping. This is why, in my personal opinion vaping should (if it’s allowed to) emerge to be as important for eliminating harm and disease as penicillin was, when invented by Sir Alexander Fleming in 1928. However, back then patients with life threatening infections (read smoking) didn’t have to pay enormous taxes for these infections, which in turn funded complete industries (Tobacco control/charities) otherwise penicillin may also have had its opponents like ecigs have today in 2015.
‘Tobacco smoking is simply a cash cow and where massive sums of money are at stake logic and common sense sadly are often ignored’.
What many people forget is that “Public Health” with regard to tobacco smoking doesn’t mean the “public”. Tobacco smoking from a public health perspective only actually affects the users of tobacco currently just 19% of the population. In reality smoking only affects smokers health not the general public at large. Sure the “public” picks up the NHS tab for treating smoking related diseases, which is why high tobacco taxes are seemingly justified and accepted. However UK tobacco taxes accounted for 15% of the whole NHS budget in 2013 – far more than the actual cost of treating smoking diseases. Smokers are generally far more likely to be concerned about their own health than all the so called “Public Health” pen pushers who probably have never smoked a harmful tobacco cigarette in their entire lives. So if a product had the potential to entirely replace tobacco smoking, one would expect it to be widely promoted if not welcomed with open arms by all and sundry, especially if this product was actually proven to be popular with smokers. But as 2014 has already shown, ecigs divide opinion. “Why this is” can be answered by a simple five letter word.
Follow the “Money”
Global tobacco sales are estimated to be in excess of £450 billion (2013). To put that into perspective, that’s more than 50% of the UK’s total Gross Domestic Product or nearly £900 in sales every single second. These sales generate close to £30 billion in profits for Big T. It’s safe to say: tobacco companies like tobacco smokers. However Tobacco companies aren’t the main beneficiaries of all this money as governments’ excise duties/tax account for up to 80% of these sales depending on which country you live in. So governments’ coffers around the world do very nicely by having smokers, so governments also like tobacco smokers.
The big Tobacco companies are all public companies listed on the main Stock markets and as historically have been as safe as houses with guaranteed high dividends. Every single pension fund is therefore heavily committed to holding tobacco shares. So pension funds also quite like tobacco smokers. Since tobacco smoking has been known to be harmful and consequently considered the biggest evil after Osama Bin Laden, a plethora of tobacco control organisations got funded to fight tobacco use. These are funded mainly by Governments (well actually it’s the smokers paying for these by virtue of the taxes on tobacco cigarettes). These have got larger and more powerful as more and more Government money (read tobacco taxes) got thrown at them so Tobacco Control also actually quite likes smokers. Can you see where this is heading?
Ah, but surely public health don’t want smokers until you understand that the majority of public health organisations are funded jointly by governments and big pharma. These two entities profit from the disease and illnesses that tobacco smoking causes. So public health insanely also quite likes smokers.
Big pharma exists to treat disease by selling drugs. Their global sales are similar to the sales of Big Tobacco, with similar profits. They fund and influence numerous organisations from the World Health Organisation through to charities such as ASH, Cancer Relief and many others. Smoking related diseases generate approximately 20% of their global drug sales and treatments so you won’t be at all surprised by the fact that the pharmaceutical industry also quite likes smokers.
Ecigs have therefore rightly been branded a significant disruptive technology, in that they have the ability to radically alter the existing incestuous relationship that tobacco smoking has financially with big tobacco, big pharma, public health, tobacco control and governments. Tobacco smoking, and crucially the money spent on tobacco is simply the glue in a house of cards. Smokers are the glue that keeps the house of cards financially secure, without smokers the whole house could come tumbling down.
‘2015 may well be the most crucial year for ecigs. It may be the year that determines the future of vaping and ecigs’.
Many including myself now believe that vaping can’t be prevented, but the question that remains is what will it look like in the future and will the desire to “control” ecig use via the proposed regulatory measures have a positive or negative outcome?
Many new converts to vaping may not even be aware of the legislative measures already planned for 2016 because ecigs were only included within the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive last year. Many EU countries will start to ratify the new EU legislation in 2015, with Holland already being the first to do so and the early signs aren’t necessarily good.
For those unaware of the proposed legislation here’s a brief summary:
The 2014 EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD)
The first EU Tobacco Products Directive was released back in 2001. It’s main goal was to reduce tobacco usage across Europe, especially for the younger generation. In 2014, behind closed doors it was decided that electronic cigarettes would be added to this directive to allow regulation by classifying them as tobacco related products. After several failed attempts to get a majority to agree on the new revision to include e-cigs, these new regulations were bundled with several other proposals such as plain packaging, tighter age restrictions and larger health warnings for tobacco cigarettes. The idea was that this would finally get enough votes for it to pass.
The newly revised Tobacco Products Directive proposes to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco related product. These new rules set to be implemented across EU member states will specify how tobacco related products (included e-cigs) can be sold, presented and manufactured.
‘The new directive will come into force on the 20th May 2016′.
Some of the new rules that the TPD require all member states (including the UK) to abide by include:
The maximum size of refill containers of nicotine containing liquid is 10ml.
Say goodbye to “normal” size containers and buying in larger sizes to reduce cost. Apparently this is to reduce the chance of accidental poisoning although you can still buy a 2 litre bottle of lemon bleach from your supermarket.
Maximum size of cartridges or tanks will not exceed 2ml.
This means the end of large tanks that many people now use. It is hard to see any justification to support this restriction.
Maximum nicotine strength of e-liquid is 20mg
No more 24mg strength – the high strength that a lot of people start off with to transition from tobacco. This is apparently due to poisoning concerns which have been proven to be totally false.
Electronic cigarettes must provide a consistent dose of nicotine.
How this is interpreted could make or break e-cigs. No current device can provide a consistent dose as you can draw for as little or as long or as hard as you want. Not even tobacco cigarettes have to comply to this unworkable requirement.
E-cigs and refill containers must have a mechanism to ensure leak free refilling.
Again how this is interpreted will determine how damaging it will be. No current system can ensure leak free refilling as this is largely down to the user. Although why this should be an issue is unknown. Any e-cig user is used to a little bit of leaking and learns how to deal with it.
If a “competent authority” believes any product may present a health risk they may be prohibited.
So, if 3 member states prohibit a product this can then be extended to all EU member states, in other words a blanket wide EU ban. On top of the restrictions on products there is plenty of unnecessary red tape and requirements for manufacturers and distributors to comply with. Anyone manufacturing or selling e-cigs must notify and submit information to their member state for each and every product, or product variation that they wish to sell. This includes ingredients lists, detailed emissions data, toxicological data, information on nicotine doses and absorption data, opening and refilling mechanisms and production processes for every single product variation that they wish to sell. Every year data on sales volumes, product types, consumer preferences and surveys must be submitted to member states. This will only increase cost which will ultimately have to be passed on to the consumer making e-cigs less attractive.
The ecig industry is however bursting with new exciting innovations and models, despite the regulatory threats. Today’s ecig choices are massive in comparison to what was available even 2 years ago. This explains why the popularity of vaping has increased. The most important shift in 2015 is likely to be the move away from cylinder ego/spinner type batteries to the box type batteries. These little devices (such as the Eleaf istick) deliver variable power for longer periods between charges which combined with more effective atomizers produce a vaping experience that even first time vapers will find satisfying and rewarding. The trial and error of first time vaping is likely to diminish with even the basic starter kits out performing what was available 12 months ago. This is largely to do with the fact that coil technology used in open systems also improves with temperature sensors that deliver a constant and safe vape.
‘The industry will undertake more research into e-liquid, coil and vaping temperatures in order to mitigate any of the presumed risks that vaping delivers’.
It’s ironic in fact that a product that serves to compete solely with the tobacco cigarette and all the known risks and harms associated with tobacco smoking is already deemed scientifically 95%+ safer, yet regulators are seemingly asking for 100% proof of safety.
Political & Regulatory Focus
In under 18 months the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive will be law throughout the EU unless legal challenges are successful. Every EU country has to ratify the TPD and Holland has already proposed its legislation. The most worrying aspect of Holland’s interpretation of the TPD is that no open systems (i.e. separate battery/separate tank with self filling) are deemed acceptable. Every ecig tank should be disposable. Refill cartridges are to be one time use with no more than 2ml capacity and not refillable by the actual user.
We already know that the TPD restricts eliquid to a maximum 20mg strength and can only be sold in 10ml bottles, but the ambiguity within the TPD in terms of “leak proof” devices has to date been uncertain. Holland’s interpretation seems to indicate that the emphasis is on the use once, throw away, buy again type ecigs tanks promoted and sold by big tobacco. One can only hope that the UK and other EU countries take a more liberal view, or that Totally Wicked’s legal challenge (and hopefully others) are successful.
The last 6 months of 2014 saw a gradual shift towards the public embracing the use of ecigs. The public generally see ecigs as a positive development, especially those that have had personal experience of friends and family using them. Ecigs legally will remain a consumer product, albeit with future regulatory caveats. However the battle to control ecigs will be determined by the regulatory demands imposed on the industry. What can be sold and by whom is underpinned by the regulatory demands waiting to be imposed. Remember that vaping is a disruptive technology and with so much money at stake it’s turning out to be a fierce and challenging battle. Politicians know that smokers/vapers represent a minority of the population. Subsequently the wishes of vapers and tobacco harm reduction advocates is seen as secondary to the demands and financial motivations of the groups that currently like tobacco smokers – because they profit from them.
Positives & Negatives
The popularity of vaping the past few years can be explained by the simple fact that ecigs work by providing an effective consumer choice to regular tobacco smoking, but without the harm associated with burning tobacco. The hundreds of flavours combined with the variety of choice of devices and tanks, not to mention the financial savings that can be made by converting to vaping all provide positive reasons for smokers to switch. Add in the indisputable fact that vaping is at least 95% safer than tobacco smoking and you have the reasons for their popularity. Regulatory demands that restrict or reduce these positives can only reduce the attractiveness of vaping and subsequently reduce the appeal of vaping, which in turn sadly protects tobacco smoking. The success of vaping in reducing tobacco consumption and smoking prevalence the past two years is unprecedented.
‘Many would therefore argue “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but realistically some regulation is probably needed’.
The ecig industry is keen to do all they can to reduce any known risks or future risks that may become known in the future, but any regulation should be appropriate and proportional and not introduced in order to protect tobacco smoking. What is certain is that regardless of the final outcome of any regulatory battles or demands the focus on providing better quality products and safer products is being felt by all ecig manufacturers and suppliers. Established manufacturers and suppliers will survive, with product quality increasing and any perceived risks being eliminated. If quality can be increased with dubious fakes eliminated then regulatory demands will be a positive outcome. The key question however for 2015 will be how much regulation is for the benefit of the consumer as opposed to the protection of tobacco smoking and the protection of the money generated by tobacco smokers?