Legislation is never forever. In 2014, the authors of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) had the tough task of taming an unruly e-cigarette market and predicting the future of vaping products.
They did well in bringing order from chaos, creating a common framework that has provided the flexibility for vaping to flourish in those member states that are comfortable with it while also maintaining safeguards demanded by other countries.
Yet it is not perfect. Safety is the first duty of regulators and the rules help stop poor quality products reaching consumers; however, relying just on the TPD’s self-notification system is a high-risk approach to ensuring quality.
The lack of meaningful surveillance or enforcement means that no one knows how many of the thousands of different products on the markets actually comply with the Directive.
Enforcing basic safety and quality standards is critical in order to protect consumers and create a level playing field for vaping products.
To not do so would only benefit the unscrupulous. We believe that competition is wonderful but it has to be fair. Therefore what we need are EU-wide product standards for liquids and devices.
The French pioneered this with their Association Française de Normalisation (AFNOR) standard. The European Committee for Standardization (CEN) is now producing its own, very welcome, version.
"Enforcing basic safety and quality standards is critical in order to protect consumers and create a level playing field for vaping products"
The notification problem has been compounded by another unintended consequence of TPD rules on e-cigarettes; the fast-growing short-fill e-liquid market. Consumers want bigger refill bottles than the TPD allows.
The result is them topping up unregulated non-nicotine bottles with regulated nicotine shots. Do health officials know what is in those non-nicotine liquids? No – and this needs to change.
A final challenge is consumer ignorance on the scientific consensus on vaping’s reduced-risk potential. Public health officials are concerned about the growing gap between what scientists say and what the public believes.
The easy solution would be for the European Commission to pass the problem onto manufacturers. We could help close the gap if we were allowed to communicate science-based messages to adult consumers.
"The easy solution would be for the European Commission to pass the problem onto manufacturers. We could help close the gap if we were allowed to communicate science-based messages to adult consumers"
Amendments to the EU rule book should be built on the expert view that vaping products are very different to combustible ones and therefore warrant an entirely different, and more liberal, consumer communication framework.
By highlighting this we are not attacking those who wrestled with the TPD back in 2014. Vaping was growing so quickly that it urgently needed regulation.
Now, a more mature market needs regulatory attention that draws on the past four years’ practical experience and research science.
Our vision is of a competitive EU market supplying knowledgeable consumers with safe and enjoyable products. Enforcing current requirements and implementing new safety standards means that EU citizens have quality products and plenty of choice.
A fair market such as this will stimulate further innovation and that will marry the objectives of both regulators and consumers – safe and desirable products.