A few years ago the vape industry fought hard against a complete ban on e-cigarettes. We met with whatever politicians would talk to us. We encouraged customers to write to their representatives. I appeared on TV and radio (which I hate!), reached out to media and wrote numerous articles.
While we won compromises, they were often unsatisfactory. For example, the nicotine limit was set at 2% – not enough to work for every smoker. The tank capacity was set at 2ml, which means frequent topping up for heavy users, and plastic 10ml bottles were mandated, which meant more plastic waste.
So it may seem strange that some of the people and companies who campaigned against the restrictions are also outraged at non-compliance, whether it’s by small retailers or on the big platforms like Amazon and eBay. After all, they are achieving some of the same things (higher nicotine content and larger capacity) we originally argued for.
The fact is, compliance, even while we campaign for better regulations, is important. Here’s why…
Caring about the product
PHE and other bodies in the UK estimate that vaping is 95% safer than smoking, and carries just 0.5% of the cancer risk.
But there are caveats both ways.
On the one hand, due to advances in toxicology, the introduction of emissions testing and more, it’s highly likely that the best devices and e-liquid could now improve on this estimate. Indeed, when I interviewed one scientist, Professor Riccardo Polosa, he described the advances in quality and safety as “phenomenal”. Science (and quality regulation) could enable us to make vaping even safer in the future.
On the other hand, to be sure of this risk assessment, we need quality vape devices and vape liquid that has been properly tested, made from pharmaceutical grade nicotine, that has had potentially harmful ingredients removed.
Many manufacturers and retailers care deeply about the product they sell. We often use the products we sell, and care about the long-term health of both ourselves and our customers.
But the sort of people who illegally import and sell vape products in the UK are far less likely to care about the product and their customers. What’s more, it is far less likely the e-liquid will be the high quality consumers deserve.
Almost since vaping was started, it has had to battle against misinformation, often funded by people and industries with much deeper pockets than ours.
In the UK we are lucky that (in recent years, at least) we have had sensible and sane messaging from our government and charities such as Cancer Research UK.
When illegal products are sold and it hits the headlines, it besmirches the name of the entire industry, including the responsible players.
A level playing field
A strong and independent vape industry is necessary for vaping to reach its full potential.
Responsible smaller and medium-sized companies can reach people on a more personal level. They can give advice and support. They lead to competition, which keeps prices down, offers greater choice, and makes vaping accessible to more people.
Unfortunately, they are also hampered by the fact that other companies get away with breaking the rules.
Online marketplaces get to advertise their vape products when other companies do not. They rely on delivery companies to check for age when other companies need costly age verification software – which never works perfectly for all adults, often disrupting purchases. Meanwhile, cowboy suppliers use these platforms to supply illegal products.
For any industry to thrive, the players need confidence that the rules are applied equally.
Play the long game
The UK government is currently reviewing vape regulations, and strong arguments are being put forward for a relaxation of nicotine strengths, bottle sizes and tank strengths.
Until that happens, though, it’s important that all players work hard to protect the reputation and viability of an industry which, it seems, is always under attack.