I could turn this post into something of a rant about the iniquity of the EU and all its works. After all the new vaping regulations are contained in the 2015 Tobacco Products Directive (TPD for short) steered through the European Parliament by Yorkshire MEP Linda McAven and then ignorantly - quite literally as she'd no idea what she was voting on - agreed to by the UK's Public Health Minister (then Anna Soubry MP) at the Council of Ministers. In the latter case after the amendments removing some of the anti-vaping provisions of the TPD were ignored by the European Commission in its recommendations to that Council.
But given there's a debate about our membership of the EU going on out there, I'm going to hold fire on all that for another post nearer the June 23 referendum date. Instead I think that the UK Government has sufficient grounds - evidential grounds - for saying to the European Commission and our EU partners that it would be a mistake to enact the regulations. Not only does the UK Government have the independent report produced by Public Health England that demonstrated how vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking but today we also have a comprehensive report from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) building on this evidence:
The RCP report, published yesterday, acknowledged the need for proportionate regulation but said rules should not be allowed to significantly inhibit the development and use of harm-reduction products, such as e-cigarettes.
The RCP said the long-term negative effects from vaping were ‘unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco’.
The regulations under the TPD - bans on advertising, product strength limits, volume controls for e-liquids and an onerous product approval process - in effect put e-cigarettes into the same position as smoking with the result that smaller producers and many retailers of vaping products will simply close. Only the biggest producers and the e-cigarette brands owned by tobacco companies will be able to survive. Vaping is, in effect, denormalised in the same manner that public health has approached the control of smoking. It's true that vaping will still be cheaper (although the EU is discussing imposing taxes on vaping products) but it will no longer have a visible high street presence as a much safer alternative to smoking.
The Government should simply say to the EU that the evidence is that, while the TPD as a whole will benefit public health, it would be even more of a benefit if vaping was allowed to develop freely as an alternative to smoking. Indeed the Department for Health's own impact assessment says just this:
Its impact assessment (pdf) on EU rules to be enshrined in UK law also acknowledges that higher costs for e-cigarette manufactures could lead to price increases and reduction of choice for consumers, leading people to switch back to smoking, which public health experts regard as far more dangerous.
It recognises too that regulations might create new barriers for small- and medium-sized companies, a concern that comes as public health doctors warned of possible consequences from tobacco giants becoming more involved in making e-cigarettes.
The TPD effectively leaves the vaping market to be captured by large companies able to deal with the cost of approval and regulation, which amounts to capture by either or both of the pharmaceuticals industry or big tobacco companies (far be it from me to suggest that this might just explain the enormous investment from these two sectors in lobbying the EU, MEPs and Governments over the TPD). This is not in the interests of public health, small businesses trading legally now but unable to once the regulations arrive or the two-and-a-half million former smokers now getting pleasure from vaping.
I hold out little hope here. But it would be a sensible government that saw when something is wrong and changed what it is doing accordingly.