For almost 400 years, Imperial Brands and its family of European companies have been serving consumers and collaborating with governments. As scientific understanding of the harm caused by smoking grew, we partnered with policymakers and regulators to enforce public health legislation.
Then, with the emergence of vaping and other smokeless nicotine products in the early 21st Century, we saw an opportunity to evolve our partnership with adult consumers and governments by offering potentially less harmful alternatives to cigarettes.
While public health bodies have concluded that nicotine is addictive, they also agree it is the smoke released by tobacco combustion which contains most of the harmful chemicals responsible for smoking-related disease. An estimated 20 million European smokers have transitioned to vaping, potentially preventing many thousands of premature deaths.
Imperial Brands has played an active, responsible role in these efforts towards harm reduction. Our blu brand has built a track record for appealing only to adults - the average age of our vape consumers is similar to the average age of cigarette smokers.
We see an opportunity to co-create an environment which both supports adult consumers transitioning to potentially less harmful alternatives and improves consumer trust in products for sale.
In the European Union, most nicotine products are regulated under the 2014 Tobacco Products Directive (EUTPD2). EUTPD2 has been effective in its objectives of ensuring a “high level of human health”, including among youth, and maintaining an orderly internal market.
However, over the past few years, we have spotted the emergence of new irresponsible manufacturers and unscrupulous retailers, marketing products clearly targeted at children, and non-compliant devices containing illegally high nicotine levels and untested ingredients.
As European Commission regulators work through the final stages of their evaluation of EUTPD2, we at Imperial are looking forward to contributing to this important conversation. We see an opportunity to co-create a regulatory environment which both supports adult consumers transitioning to potentially less harmful alternatives and improves consumer trust in products for sale.
Any new regulations should bear in mind three important principles.
First, they need to balance the need to cut youth access with the need to maintain sufficient choice for adult consumers to ensure they do not drift back to smoking cigarettes.
Second, new rules need to be enforceable. There is already no shortage of rules which look tough on paper. The problem is that our national authorities are often overwhelmed and unable to enforce the current regulations effectively.
And this means that, third, new rules need to be affordable. All member states are facing budgetary challenges, so we need to find solutions which simplify and focus the objectives of our overstretched enforcement agencies.
An estimated 20 million European smokers have transitioned to vaping, potentially preventing many thousands of premature deaths.
There is no single solution, but there are three important policy levers which we believe will give us the most bang for our euros.
- Products and names
Vaping products which look like toys, featuring cartoon imagery, or using names and flavour descriptions linked to confectionery or rebellious, sexualised behaviours have no place on shop shelves anywhere – and should be prohibited.
However, EU regulators should not mistake the opportunity to regulate flavour descriptors effectively, with restricting flavours or the categories themselves. Consumers tell us that a choice of flavours is a crucial factor in their decision to switch from cigarettes to vaping – and scientific research confirms this. Similarly, while disposable vapes have attracted particular controversy, we are seeing evidence that these types of devices remain an effective entry point for adult smokers making their first steps away from cigarettes.
- Retail licensing
A second big lever is control over the size of the retail universe. Currently, there are tens of thousands of outlets across Europe selling vapes – many more than the number which sell tobacco. Our enforcement authorities cannot police all of these. Retail licensing schemes would bring more control to the market. The withdrawal of a licence would be a simple, powerful threat to rogue retailers.
Excise is not just a means of generating government revenue: it is an important tool for creating a more effective regulatory framework. Excise gives governments the power to monitor and control the distribution of products beyond points of entry – a more straightforward task than policing individual retailers. Excise therefore has a role to play in bringing back order to the vaping market, provided there remains a meaningful price differential between vapes and cigarettes to incentivise adult smokers to choose potentially less harmful options.
We believe it is possible to cut youth access while ensuring adult smokers continue to have access to potentially less harmful alternatives. We at Imperial Brands stand ready to support regulators across the EU to achieve this common goal.
In partnership with
This article was produced in partnership with Imperial Brands.