The EU’s proposed (and stupid) new rules for e-cigarettes have been approved as part of the tobacco products directive. After the EU rejected a proposal for medicines regulation, European vapers were understandably optimistic, but the proposed revisions contained numerous illogical and counter-productive suggestions, and were still staunchly opposed by public health experts, scientists and vapers for numerous reasons. The vote wasn’t even close, with 478 of 634 MEPs voting in favor of it. As groups like ASH declare a “public health victory,” vapers are left holding their heads in their hands and wondering why scientifically-backed, proportionate legislation seems to be a far-off dream when it comes to e-cigarettes.
The New EU E-Cig Rules
Among the many consequences of the decision, the rules will limit the maximum nicotine level to 20 mg/ml. This is in direct contradiction to the piece of research they used to justify that limit, which found that this would provide less than a third of the nicotine you’d get from a cigarette. This, sadly, will affect just-switching smokers the most, with between 25 and 30 percent of vapers currently using liquids over the new limit. In addition, e-liquid won’t be sold in bottles larger than 10 ml, and tanks will be required to have a maximum capacity of 2 ml. Devices will also have to supply a consistent dose of nicotine, which is a significant challenge given the fact that battery voltage drops as you run it down, so will inherently vaporize less.
The worst part of the changes is that if three member states decide to ban refillable cartridges (and clearomizers, tanks, e.t.c.), the European Commission can then impose an EU-level ban on them. If this happens, it will be an unmitigated disaster, and in combination with the senseless nicotine limit will drastically undermine the ability of e-cigs to help people quit smoking. It will virtually hand the industry to cig-a-like, increasingly big-tobacco-funded brands, and restrictions on marketing will undoubtedly impact the number of smokers who decide to try vaping in the first place.
As well as the consequences for vapers, the directive added rules for tobacco cigarettes, such as banning characterizing flavorings and menthol, a minimum pack size of 20 (because if you’re going to harm yourself, apparently it’s better to really harm yourself) and graphic warnings which must cover 65 percent of packets.
Whatever your opinion on the tobacco-related issues, the e-cigarette regulations are clearly dreadful, imposing needlessly stringent legislation on something with the potential to save millions of lives. As it did with snus, the EU has failed to wholeheartedly support tobacco harm reduction and has therefore failed to improve public health in Europe. As the only EU member state where snus is allowed, Sweden’s smoking rate is less than half of the EU average, and along with that comes dramatic reductions in smoking-related disease and death. It’s been estimated that if all men in Europe smoked at the proportional rates of those in Sweden, there would be 200,000 fewer deaths each year. With the new e-cig rules, the EU is taking yet another blind and scientifically illiterate step backwards in the fight to reduce the harm caused by smoking.
What EU Vapers Can Do
It doesn’t look good, but it’s not over for vapers in Europe. The rules aren’t set to come into force until 2016, so there is still time to campaign. The European Citizens Initiative gives EU citizens the chance to actually participate in the legislative process; it’s not just another throw-away petition. EU vapers can sign the European Free Vaping Initiative to support proportionate, sensible e-cig legislation which doesn’t needlessly limit the availability of devices and liquids. It needs to get to one million signatures to succeed, but may be the best opportunity for vapers’ voices to be heard on this issue, so sign it, share it across social media and get the word out! You can also write to your MP and MEP and let them know how e-cigs have helped you and how you and many others would be impacted by the new rules. The only real chance of maintaining the variety of e-cigs and liquids that have helped so many of us quit is to continue to fight this stupidity every step of the way.