Saturday 19 March 2011

Carry On Vaping

Last summer, I mentioned a consultation by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on the future of the e-cigarette in the UK.

Just to recap, there were three options available to those who responded. The first - the nuclear one - would have seen e-cigs banned with immediate effect until they could be assessed as a medicinal device, and one guesses that this would have taken quite some time. It would, to all intents and purposes, have signalled a period of prohibition.

Option 2 was the same as above, but to allow manufacturers a year to comply with new regulations. Option 3 was to do nothing for now.

The results arrived in inboxes last week, and it looks pretty good news for 'vapers'.

[MHRA spokesman Jeremy] Mean explained that the MHRA has decided to adopt option 3, do nothing, with a view to undertaking more research over the next 18 months. He asked for ECITA’s assistance in this regard, and we have pledged our support both to the MHRA and the wider Department of Health in sharing research resources, and more broadly engaging in the process of demonstrating the safety profile of electronic cigarettes, and how they can be used as part of the wider government Tobacco Control programme.
The full responses to the consultation showed that the medical establishment all favoured Option 2, while public sector bodies Trading Standards and LACORS opted for an instant ban, so one could kinda chalk this up as a 'win'. Makes a change, eh?

What may have swung it is the vast level of responses from ordinary vapers detailing positive experiences with their devices. Any decision which sought to ban e-cigs would have exhibited high hypocrisy from a government which continually talks of the harm from cigarettes. To ban something which many use as an avenue by which to do exactly what the state is ordering them to do would have been quite laughable. Without supply of ingredients and components to carry on vaping, a lot of people would have naturally returned to tobacco use**.

Of course - as is to be expected of a state so addicted to administrative restriction - despite vast anecdotal evidence pointing to the fact that significant numbers have quit smoking thanks to e-cigs, the industry is prohibited from marketing them as such for fear of being hammered by legislation prescribing over-arching medicinal regulation.

As someone who makes regular use of e-cigs - and has commented on them at length - it's a rather pleasing development. However, one assumes that this won't be the end of the matter since the state doesn't feel comfortable with products it can't control. Such a policy endangers salaries, doncha know.

It does, though, give the e-cig industry another 18 months to grow its most potent ally - popularity. Presumably as an offshoot of the bullying over tobacco, e-cig sales are booming, as detailed by Jason Cropper of The Electronic Cigarette Company on BBC Radio Shropshire the other day (5 mins sound file).

As user numbers swell, government's enforcers in Whitehall are going to find it increasingly difficult to cut off vapers from an alternative to tobacco which offers massive harm reduction potential, without showing themselves up as vested interest stooges (if they haven't already, natch).

So for now, it's carry on vaping. Well, until a potential next battle in late 2012, at least.

** A prominent vaper once advised me that a back up policy in the event of repeated atomiser and battery failure (as mechanical components are prone to do) was to keep a packet of fags in a drawer. Should such supplies be rendered unavailable, many vapers would have no other option but to reach for their stash and return to smoking.


Anonymous said...

Tobacco control has got itself into a bit of a corner on this one, haven’t they? They loathe vaping because it “reminds” them of smoking – because it looks so similar – and this diminishes their attempts to denormalise smoking itself. But on the other hand, given that so many vapers now use their e-cigs instead of tobacco, there’s a strong likelihood that if e-cigs are banned or severely restricted, those users will simply go back to smoking real cigarettes again.

No wonder they’ve decided on the “do nothing” option – any action they take either way towards e-cigarettes will be a lose-lose situation for them. Try as I might, I honestly can’t think of a way out of this one for them. Oh, quelle shame!!

Dick Puddlecote said...

Anon: "Try as I might, I honestly can’t think of a way out of this one for them."

I toyed with ending the article with much the same thing, but tempting fate and all that.

Trooper Thompson said...

Isn't there another option: tax the buggery out of them?

Anonymous said...

Yes, there is the option of turning e-cigs into tobacco for sake of taxation and of either tobacco companies or pharmaceuticals having 18 additional months to bring to market their own branded version of e-cigs, upon which their large stash of R&D, marketing, brand recognition and advertising budgets, can probably take over the market-place entirely. And with pharmaceutical lobby groups in command of government, government can be told very easily to re-write the argument against nicotine from being everything bad to everything good and desireable, overnight. At that point, then e-cigs will be the panacea for everything from obesity to depression to indigestion to nimble-mindedness, all the very good and provable qualities of tobacco brought back into mainstream and highlighted as desireable behaviour once again. It could be the war on smokers was really a ploy to manufacture a reason to bring in this new technology all along, which has more profit potential in the long run for tobacco and pharmaceutical companies. Maybe. Or else it's just a simple twist of fate things are turning as they are.

auntieban said...

Sorry Dick. I can't share your optimism.

There's a section of the new White Paper on tobacco strategy devoted to examining ways of 'helping' the smoker who is unable or UNWILLING to give up smoking.

This is what they say about e-cigs:

"There is, however, concern that an immediate move to medicines regulation for nicotine-containing products [ie. e-fags] could lead to potentially useful products, which could support quitting, cutting down and reducing the harms to smokers and those around them, being taken offthe market temporarily or innovation in this area being stifled."

In other words - let the pharmaceuticals catch up with this latest NRT development then we can get them sucking on something that looks like a tampon.

Call me an old hippy, but I roll my organic tobacco in unbleached paper and smoke a few each day for the good of my health. It isn't just about the nicotine and I don't want idiots who think it is to determine my smoking habits.

Frank Davis said...


Thanks for promptly updating your blogroll to my new WordPress blog site.

Unfortunately, it seems to have got stuck on the date when I moved there.

westcoast2 said...

There was a vast number of individual responses and this is encouraging. At first Opt 2 was almost seen as a given. After some effort a number of people changed their view to opt 3 and some resubmitted responses.

The ECITA also played a significant role as did a number of individual manufacturers.

As for taxing them. This could be difficult as it could affect Pharma products.

The issue on using the terms 'Quit' etc falls under current medicines law. It is better to continue to offer them as alternatives. If a person cuts down or quits then that is secondary and not the primary purpose. Note that there is already a measure of control for e-cigs. They are regulated.

I have gone on about e-cigs as an alternative for a while and that attempts to ban them would expose the hypocrisy of the anti-smoking movement. The MHRA going for opt 3 is common sense and a set back for those groups.

There is much to be done in the next 18 months.

westcoast2 said...

Rather than 'Manufacturers' it was UK Vendors I really meantw.

Anonymous said...

Taxation would be all well and good for the Government in the short-term, but the problem is that they would then – as they have with tobacco and alcohol – become dependent upon the revenue stream and then wouldn’t be in a position to ban e-cigs, ever. This is the situation they now find themselves in with tobacco. No matter how much they allow ASH et al to bat on about the “costs” to society of tobacco related illnesses, absences, and premature death etc etc, a few sums on even the most basic of calculators indicates very clearly that the money that the Exchequer gets from these products far, far outweighs any of the figures quoted in the MSM.

I personally think that this is one reason why the Coalition has, by and large, tried to distance itself from the anti-smoking movement to a much larger degree than the last Government did (albeit not as much as I personally would like, but, hey, any port in a storm, eh?) – because it simply can’t afford for very many more people to give up smoking or to start buying their tobacco from illegal sources.

Of course, the same will be true in a few years’ time for alcohol, but at least anti-alcohol is in its infancy and hasn’t yet got the bit between its teeth, so that assures the Coalition of at least a few more years of easy, booze-related cash.

There is, of course, also the chance that any attempts to persecute vapers in the same way as smokers have been persecuted might well result in the current divisions between vapers and “real” smokers closing up slightly and, as we all know, “divide and rule” has been the single most successful element in the War on Tobacco, so they won’t be wanting to adopt any measures which will result in the opposite – “unite and fight” – will they?

Anonymous said...

ecigs are too small and easily tranportable and so can be posted from anywhere in the world that taxation isn't an option.