Is Britain about to ban e-cigarettes?

Disturbing news out of Britiain via James at Ashtray Blog. It seems that the British version of the FDA, the MHRA or Medicines and Heathcare products Regulatory Agency has opened a consultation on e-cigarettes which most likely is a preamble to regulation which could be interpreted in such a manner as to effectively result in an outright ban of product. (See the consultation form and accompanying documents here.)

On the surface of it, it seems a reasonable response to a new growing unregulated product. No one would argue against some form of quality control. However, one worries about the following:

1. Strictly limiting who sells this product could make it less available than cigarettes which is enough under many circumstances to make cigarettes the rational choice when deciding between the two. In other words, limiting the availability nudges the population toward the more harmful choice, the same choice that the same government keeps trying to discourage by other means.

2. Demanding manufacturing guidelines when none of the manufacturers are domestic can only lead to, at the best, significant lapses in supply, and more likely, the abandoning of the market for less regulated regions. This is not to argue against product regulation in general but simply to point out one negative that could threaten the whole category.

3. So far, there appears to be not much of a black market in these devices but increased regulation could create one, and ironically, it would be driven by health concerns.

In the document, three options for post consultative action are laid out, with the MHRA indicating their preferred choice which would result in all devices being removed from the market within 21 days and then requiring some sort of certification to be made available. This would result in some individuals returning to the more harmful smoking, and as bad, many smokers not ever trying this much safer source of nicotine.

One hopes in the end that reasonable voices will prevail but the document contains a passage that indicates this is unlikely. The wholly discredited FDA assay of ecigarettes is referred to as evidence of the potential harm of ecigarettes and as good cause for this sort of action.

I hope that I am wrong and there are at least a few smokers (or vapers) on the MHRA committee who will help steer them to some common sense. In the meanwhile, I encourage all to enter their suggestions into the consultation process (link here)


20 thoughts on “Is Britain about to ban e-cigarettes?

  1. I think some responsible regulation would be a good idea. There are lots of cowboys out there, as shown by the free e-cig scams.

    I am disturbed, though, by the idea that it should only be sold as a quit smoking idea. What is wrong with people actually using it because they enjoy it?

  2. One interesting aspect of the document is that the government admits:

    * it can help people quit
    * it can help save lives (by helping people to quit)
    * the electronic cigarette can be used as part of a tobacco harm reduction stratey (for people who don’t want to quit)

    We’ve written more about it here:

    (Sorry Paul, don’t normally spam your blog 🙂 )

  3. In fact consumer products are already covered by regulations that state they must be ‘safe’. In this case ‘safe’ can be defined as –
    “‘A “safe product” is any product which under normal or reasonably foreseeable conditions of use presents no risk or only the minimum risk compatible with the product’s use and which is consistent with a high level of protection for consumers.”

    Click to access file22713.pdf

    Nicotine liquids are also regulated by the Poisons Act 1972.

    The problem is an artificial one, closing the consumer market and more regulation is not needed, what is needed is a definition of ‘safe’ nicotine liquid and enforcement. The Trading Standards body decided that they didn’t want the difficulty of enforcing standards on this product so the consumer market should be shut down. That effectively means that nicotine is being made a controlled substance I believe.

    This is the process someone somewhere in the world needs to start to ensure international standards for nicotine

    The consumer market everywhere will be sneakily closed and nicotine monopolies will be given to tobacco and pharm companies. Their vested interests do not lie in producing innovative, cheap, safe and/or effective products, not while they’re being paid a fortune for killing us or keeping us from failing to be cured. The 95% failure rate of NRT is too suspicious, especially in relation to cost.

    However, I’m not sure that the MHRA have jurisdiction to define a product to be a controlled substance and their proposals are full of flaws. I guess we’ll see what the courts make of the whole thing.

  4. Pingback: Ashtray Blog: An Electronic Cigarette Blog» Blog Archive » UK Government: Electronic Cigarettes Save Lives & Money

  5. Kate,

    Many good points there. I agree that quite often new regulations are drafted in response to a concern that is already addressed by reasonable existing laws. Or simply, fearful views are promoted that legally have already been “solved”. For instance, all the worry about tobacco manufacturers targeting children with flavours (apart from flavour being something adults enjoy in all comestibles) is that children are not allowed to buy these products just like they are not allowed to drive cars.

    And while I am not quite as cynical re the big industry, because I believe that the profit motive would in fact drive these companies toward reduced risk products, I do share your concern about any dominance perverting the market. (If cigarette producers can get smokers to move to their smokeless product and if the expense is roughly the same, they will end up with a longer living user (more sales) and better profile as well.)

    But on the other hand, a conspiracy theory would quite handily explain why such an obvious godsend is being almost universally disparaged.

  6. It’s very hard to be objective Paul I have to admit, I struggle to be careful with conspiracy theories. In this case country after country is closing the nicotine market and opposing reduced harm products. Nicotine is being restricted to tobacco products and medicine even though big breakthroughs have been made in the non-tobacco and non-medical, consumer market.

    It’s possibly a case of cultural bias building up over decades – opposition to tobacco has been medicalised and the medical establishment often arrogantly assumes it knows what’s good for us. Except it doesn’t always and intervention where it’s not needed is meddling and potentially life threatening.

  7. Ditto re wariness of conspiracy.

    I think it is more likely cultural as you say.

    Paternalists tend toward running for office, and paternalists tend to like prohibition as a response to things they do not approve of. A number of independent paternalists add up to a trend.

  8. I’m voting for the anarchists at the next election 😉

    There’s good news from Utah about their proposed ban, apparently ecigs are to be excluded from the proposals. This was also said:

    “We left it in at committee level to look for further information on e-cigarettes. The compelling arguments seem to be that e-cigs do not pose as much of a threat as tobacco products and that they are a tool to quit smoking.


    Rep. Vickers”

    This is the first reversal of pressure against ecigs that I’ve heard of so with a bit of luck things will start looking up.

  9. Esmoking is far less harmful then the alternative. Why would you ban or regulate a product that can help people stop smoking. Smoking is cool when your young, it makes you feel powerful and gives you a purpose from day to day…, however as you get older and you realize life is what it is and being cool is the furthest thing from your mind… you may already be so addicted to the 4000 chemicals in cigarettes (There is a reason the chemicals are in there) that the only thing that can help you cut back and even quit for good is a simulation of smoking.. hence Esmoking… If the Government isn’t making money from it, then they can spend some $$$ to test manufacturers then put a small tax on then, like everything else. Esmoking is so much cheaper then Analog smoking that even with a small tax the average smoker will still save $1,000’s of dollars…

  10. I use Ecigs (actually an ECigar) as an alternative to normal smoking so I am pro ECigs! but you have to be really careful here. To say “Esmoking is far less harmful then the alternative” is a bit dicey, I believe it is but that isn’t the point. There have been NO conclusive tests on the product and its long term use. Some of the ingredients might be carcinogenic depending on the quantity and method of ingestion. There may be issues on manufacturing quality control. Its complicated but what we shouldn’t see is a ban but a constructive way forward. I believe (hope) that we will see sensible regulations put in place for the manufacturing and advertising of the product coupled with an ongoing official and unbiased testing programme.
    Time will tell but I have to agree with other people here that vested interest is going to try and influence the outcome! We have seen it before with the advertising of tobacco related products!

  11. Very good points, but why should it be banned? compared to the conventional cigarettes, its the e-cig is quite better in terms of health hazards. E-cigs are very common nowadays, It takes away almost half of the harmful chemicals in a conventional cigarette. Quitting smoking is really hard and this would make a good substitute for a cig. I’ve seen lots of e-cigs on the net and I found the Luci E-cig it looks really cool on black. Has anyone tried this?

  12. I guess when the government would regulate the product, smokers will opt to use those that are easily found in the market and it will only make things worst. Why not totally ban both the e-vapor and cigarette production? Sometimes it requires a little harsh deeds to help others. If you won’t agree, take some time reading this: I am sure smokers out there will get much information from it.

    • Your harsh deeds would have a high human cost. Banning e-cigarettes (having little purpose in nay conditions since the health costs are so low that they are safer than riding a bike) is criminal as long as smoking exists. And smoking will always exist, legal or not. You have to think of this problem in terms of whether people get sick than whether they are engaging in an activity you do not either approve of or think is useful.

  13. UK government has ask is it wise to ban,we all know the the vast amounts of tax revenue gained from smokers each year is massive but so is the health bill that goes with it, are government really any richer with the tax money from cigs?
    Ha..I can see it now, “I’m arresting you for possession of a electric cigarette” regulation is a must for real !

  14. Pingback: Is Britain about to ban e-cigarettes? | Vapor Electronic Cigarette Reviews |

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