As any vaper who lives in Europe probably knows, over the last few months the European Union has been discussing what sort of laws it should impose on electronic cigarettes.
This has been a long and complicated process, with definite ups and downs from our point of view.
Making European law isn’t simple and, frankly, it isn’t pretty either. Unfortunately it’s so baffling that many vapers aren’t clear exactly what’s happening and how it will affect them.
EU Vaping Ban : What has been proposed?
Here are the facts…
The EU has decided that e-cigarettes, which contain no tobacco, should be regulated under the Tobacco Products Directive. Starting from December 2012 they were moving towards classing any e-cig or liquid with a strength of more than 4mg/ml nicotine as a medicine, which would have massively increased costs and forced most of them off the market.
A ban on flavours was also proposed.[quote]classing any e-cig or liquid with a strength of more than 4mg/ml nicotine as a medicine, which would have massively increased costs and forced most of them off the market[/quote]
This initiative was pushed through by a British MEP, Linda McAvan, who leads the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, known as ENVI.
The committee voted on 10 July 2013 – a group of vapers protested outside during the vote, bursting balloons to signify the lives that would be lost through excessive regulation – and approved the directive with some amendments.
The next stage was a vote of the full European Parliament on 8 October. ENVI and the Commission apparently thought their proposals would be voted through, but many MEPs could recognise that the restrictions on e-cigarettes were illogical and excessive and it was voted down.
Instead MEPs submitted a revision, known as Amendment 170, which left many vapers cautiously optimistic. Amendment 170 wasn’t perfect, but it removed many of ENVI’s more obnoxious proposals.
- Nicotine limit raised from 4mg to 30mg
- Flavours to be allowed
- E-cigs to be generally available, not restricted to pharmacies
- Monitoring of liquid ingredients
While the nicotine limit was still too low it was a huge improvement on ENVI’s ridiculous 4mg proposal, and the rest of the amendment was something that most people could live with. Sadly “most people” didn’t include the EU Commission.
Totally ignoring the democratically elected Parliament, they began secretly working on a new set of proposals which would practically destroy the entire market. Luckily, in late November 2013 a disaffected EU employee leaked this document.
Among the restrictions it included were:
- A ban on all refillable devices – only single use cartridges to be permitted
- A ban on all liquids stronger than 20mg/ml
- A maximum nicotine limit per cartridge of 10ml – i.e. 0.5ml cartridges
- A ban on all flavours except those licensed for nicotine replacement therapy
- A ban on any e-cigs that didn’t deliver nicotine “consistently and uniformly”
- A requirement for e-cigs to be unable to be operated by children
- A ban on all advertising and most sponsorship
- Requirements for manufacturers and importers to carry out numerous unnecessary tests and provide huge quantities of data at their own expense
A compromise to far?
Known as Article 18, this completely new proposal was debated behind closed doors by the ENVI committee and representatives from the EU Commission and Council.
The result was a “compromise” which left many of the proposed restrictions in place. Some of them were modified; for example some refillable devices would now be permitted. Overall, however, it’s still disastrous.
The amended tobacco law was voted on by the ENVI committee on 22 January 2014, and passed by a large majority.
Only seven MEPs – the European Conservatives and Reformists, plus independent Eurosceptic Nikki Sinclair – voted against it; four liberals, including two who up until then had been supportive of e-cigs, abstained and the remaining 49 voted in favour.
With this level of support for the Tobacco Products Directive it seems unlikely that any amendments will be put forward to it before the final vote in March. The best hope for vaping was an amendment to remove Article 18, leaving the rest of the Directive – a collection of minor rules about cigarette additives and packaging, the most important of which is a ban on menthol cigarettes – to be approved.
If this doesn’t happen, and without the support of the liberal ALDE group of MEPs it’s unlikely, the Directive will almost certainly be approved at the vote and will become law in around 2016. What happens then will depend on how national governments choose to implement the restrictions.
Here are the main restrictions that will be placed on electronic cigarettes, and how they will affect you:
- Nicotine strength limited to 20mg/ml. About a third of vapers currently use juice stronger than 20mg. These include a very high percentage who have recently switched from smoking or who smoked heavily. With only lower nicotine juice available the risk of them reverting to smoking is increased.
- Refillable atomisers permitted, but capacity limited to 2ml. Most current refillables will be banned under this law, with the exception of CE4-style clearomisers and some small tank systems.
- Rebuildable atomisers must have child-proof closures. This bans all current designs.
- Electronic cigarettes must deliver the nicotine dose consistently. This is completely unrealistic, as the “dose” depends on how long you hold the fire button, how long your puffs are and many other factors. It could be interpreted to ban all VV/VW devices, mech mods and any other device that doesn’t use a regulating circuit. It could even be used to force manufacturers to set a fixed fire time per press of the button.
- Electronic cigarettes must be designed so they cannot be operated by children. This bans all current designs.
- Member states “may” allow flavours. Without flavours vaping loses most of its attraction.
- Member states may ban refillable atomisers on safety grounds. If three member states do this the Commission may bring in a Europe-wide ban. It’s not clear what “safety grounds” mean or whether such a ban would apply to all refillables or only specific models. Much of the directive is equally vague.
- The packaging of electronic cigarettes (or liquid) cannot refer to the flavour. This is probably an accident, down to sloppy writing of the directive, but it’s worrying all the same.
- All advertising or promotion to be forbidden.
- Public or private comments which “have the aim, direct or indirect effect” of promoting e-cigs cannot be broadcast on any medium. It’s unclear if this would outlaw vaping forums, but it would certainly ban someone from talking about vaping on TV or radio.
It’s obvious that these restrictions would effectively end vaping as we know it
It’s obvious that these restrictions would effectively end vaping as we know it. In fact for existing vapers it’s not all that bad; there’s plenty of time to stockpile nicotine base and rebuildable components. The real danger is that it will become harder for smokers to switch to vaping. That’s why it’s important to do whatever we can to reduce their impact.
What, as vapers, can we do?
First, write to your MEPs and explain what the Directive will mean. Many of them don’t really understand it; they support the Directive because they want to reduce smoking, and don’t realise what the effect on e-cigs will be. MEPs are conditioned to assume that a compromise is automatically good, and don’t see that McAvan and the Commission have managed to come up with one that seems to give a lot of ground but in fact is a de facto ban. Tell them; some of them will listen.
Secondly, encourage smokers to switch! It will take a year or two before national governments start implementing these restrictions. The more vapers there are by then, the less keen they’ll be to annoy them. Millions of angry vapers could make a real difference at an election, so politicians are more likely to choose a looser interpretation of the restrictions. As time passes with no health problems a critical mass of vapers could even press for the laws to be relaxed. We need every convert we can get. If you have friends or family who still smoke, let them try your gear. Many of them will have rejected supermarket cigalikes, but when they try a decent setup they might be persuaded.
Most of all, don’t give up. Don’t hide your e-cig in public – if you use it openly people will ask you about it. Talk to them, explain what it is and what it does. Polls show that the public are generally supportive of vaping and don’t agree with bans. Show people that vapers are here, we’re numerous and we’re just ordinary people with a harmless hobby. The sooner vaping is an accepted part of society the sooner vested interests will stop attacking us.