MHRA Aims for End Of E-Cigarettes In the UK, But Don’t Panic – Yet!

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by: James Dunworth
Great white shark jumping out of water with its open mouth.

Vapers are under attack from the MHRA, but the moves are unlikely to have any immediate effect.

Apologies for the late update on what’s happening in the UK. There was a media frenzy yesterday, with all the usual misinformation, and I was tied up handling media enquiries (including a live interview on Sky!)

What’s happened:

There’s a lot of misinformation out there at the moment. In fact, one of our shop managers telephoned us in a panic when he heard on the radio that e-cigarettes, from tomorrow, could only be sold in pharmacies.

That’s very far from the truth. What’s happened is:

  •  the MHRA has called for e-cigarettes to be licensed as a medicine from 2016
  • however, the final decision will NOT be made at the UK level, but in Europe
  • according to the BBC, the MHRA will NOT recall any current models

Why it’s a bad idea:

Man with devil's horns and tails holds a light bulb.

Impossible to comply with

The MHRA is calling for companies to apply for a licence now.

But one company has already spent four years and two million pounds trying to develop an electronic cigarette that complies – and failed.

As I understand it (and please correct me if you know more!), the problem is delivering nicotine in a measured dose. As smokers take different puffs, depending on the person and also the mood they are in, this has proved impossible.

So essentially they have created, possibly deliberately, a directive which is impossible to comply with.

To have a chance, companies would need to spend millions on development with no guarantee of success, hundreds of thousands more on applying for a licence, again with no guarantee of success.

Protecting the Tobacco Industry, Restricting the Safer Alternative

Generally cigarettes are estimated to kill between one third and one half of smokers.

Scientists estimate that electronic cigarettes are between 100 and 1000 times safer than tobacco cigarettes.

Indeed, Professor John Britton of the Royal College of Physicians believes that:

If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes we would save 5 million deaths in people who are alive today. It’s a massive potential public health prize.

Professor John Britton, chair of the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians Source: BBC

So, assuming that the government is not:

  • aiming to protect their massive tobacco revenues
  • or trying to protect the pharmaceutical industry

Why on earth are they trying to restrict access to an alternative that could save five million lives whilst allowing easy access to tobacco cigarettes?

It’s Not A Medicine

It’s simply ridiculous to make electronic cigarettes a medicine (and restrict access at the same time) when anyone can walk in and buy a cigarette.

Obviously, some people do try to use e-cigarettes to give up, but for many other people they are a safer and more enjoyable alternative to cigarettes.

Essentially, they are saying all us smokers are sick. I don’t think that’s the case – do you?

False Reasoning

A large part of the reason for the legislation is to protect non-smokers and children.

But a huge survey of 12,000 adults and 2000 children shows it is just not an issue (see The Shocking Truth about E-Cigarettes and Children for more information).

And instead of this ridiculous opinion that has been published, why not just ban it for use for children under 18? That’s what our industry body, ECITA, has been pushing for for years, and all our products carry a no under 18 logo.

Ignoring Existing Regulation

Despite the government’s rhetoric, there are already a tonne of regulations covering e-cigarettes. The problem is that they are sporadically applied.

So, instead of making new regulations which would return a million or more users to traditional tobacco cigarettes, we should be enforcing existing regulations.

Below: I discuss the announcement on Sky News:

Reactions

Headshot of Clive Bates.

Former Action on Smoking and Health Director has lots to say!

The Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECITA) have a great blog post on the same topic here, and I have pinched some of the reactions they have published:

Clive Bates, a tobacco control advocate and former Director of Action on Smoking and Health UK:

Medicines regulation should apply to medicines, and electronic cigarettes are not medicines. These products are consumer alternatives to cigarettes – they provide nicotine in a much less harmful way than cigarettes and manufacturer do not make health claims, so why should they face high regulatory burdens?

See Clive Bates’ post 10 Reasons Not To Regulated ECigarettes As Medicines for more on Clive’s point of view.

Professor Gerry Stimson, Emeritus Professor, and one of the founders of Harm Reduction, instrumental in the development and evaluation of Harm Reduction in the UK:

This is a regrettable day for public health and a missed opportunity for hastening an end to smoking related illness and death. Rather than over-regulation, we should be moving towards encouraging the use of electronic cigarettes and other NCP, rather than putting obstacles in the way of smokers. It is bad Public Health policy to make it harder to obtain safer products than tobacco cigarettes.

Chris Price: E-Cigarette Politics (Well worth reading the full blogpost here)

Pharma has obviously decided that the EU process needs some pressure applied, as things look as if they are slipping in Brussels; and this is the result. If all goes to plan, they will maintain their iron grip on health regulation and keep the money flowing in. The status quo must be protected; interlopers who will cut disease by half are not welcome.
Hundreds of thousands will die as a direct result, but who cares? The little people don’t count.

What You Can Do

A woman points a finger out of the picture.

Want to do something about the proposed regulations? The best thing you can do is contact your MP and MEP. Explain how e-cigarettes have helped you, and why you are concerned about the MHRA’s position. (As you can see from the Facebook comment from MEP Rebecca Taylor below, some politicians DO care and DO support vaping.)

Click here for a list of EU MEPs and how to contact them, and here to find out who your representatives are.

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23 Responses to “MHRA Aims for End Of E-Cigarettes In the UK, But Don’t Panic – Yet!”

  1. Chris Kelly June 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    How can you ban e cigarettes when they are the safer alternative to cigarette smoking.They are great for stopping smoking but should not be classed as a medicine.
    If cigarettes are allowed with all there poisons and yet you cannot buy e cigarettes which are by far the much safer option what could possibly be the reason in that?
    Why are cigarettes being allowed and yet e cigs are not!

    • James Dunworth June 13, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

      I don’t know, it doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t know if it is still the case, but some MHRA staff used to be ex-pharmaeceutical employees (one was still drawing a salary), so I don’t suppose that helps!

  2. Andy Atkin June 13, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    For £29.99 a quarter you can get an NHS card giving you free prescriptions, wonder if that will cover batteries, tanks and refills? Would end up even cheaper to vape if it does!

    • James Dunworth June 13, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

      Only if a company can manage to build something which complies with what they what (so far no-one has succeeded) AND then achieves authorisation.

  3. Brian Holdaway June 13, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    How would this change affect imports, chiefly from the USA?

    I use Greensmoke but they have an outlet in the UK from which I get my e-cigs. Would they be restricted in any way or would this change only apply to UK manufacturers?

    What about ‘pharmacies’? Would e-cig users have to get a prescription from their GP? If so, what criteria would they apply in giving prescriptions?

    A lot of questions, I know, but if anyone has any thoughts, I’d welcome them.

    • James Dunworth June 13, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

      As I understand it, manufacturers would have to apply for the authorisation, and IF they obtained they would be able to sell it as usual.

  4. Switchtoecig June 13, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    That MHRA is a gov agency working for public health, right? Fox in a henhouse. It cares:)
    North Korea calls itself Democratic People’s Republic, too.

  5. lizzie June 13, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

    The great thing about e cigs, is it gives us freedom to some extent from the anti smoking brigade. They have no control over us. MHRA obviously want to claw back that control and it has nothing to do with health.

  6. James Dunworth June 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    Well, let’s enjoy them while they last!

  7. Gareth Davies June 13, 2013 at 3:25 pm #

    I honestly think its to do with losing out on taxes, and the affect on the UK economy. Plus imagine the impact on 1/3 to 1/2 of existing smokers living longers. In ten years time, ecig smokers could bankrupt a country. The EU & local government should of thought of that before banning smoking, and all the campaigns to get people to stop smoking.

    • James Dunworth June 13, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

      That’s interesting, because an Italian MEP actually raised the question in parliament, saying:

      “The consumption of traditional cigarettes provides the Member States with sizeable revenues, as a result of the substantial taxes to which they are subject.

      “According to a recent report by ANSA (Italian news agency) of 21 April 2013, in the first two months of 2013 alone, Italy’s coffers registered a loss of EUR 132 million, corresponding to a fall in revenue from duty on tobacco of approximately 7.6%. Of course, this shortfall cannot be completely blamed on the increasing use of electronic cigarettes, but it is certainly partly responsible.

      “In light of the above, can the Council state what action it intends to take to address the differences in tax revenue materialising in State coffers following the proliferation of electronic cigarettes, which currently appear to be free from any form of duty?”

      http://www.ecigarettedirect.co.uk/ashtray-blog/2013/05/e-cigarettes-tobacco-tax.html

      But I think our lot are too smart to say that out loud!

      • Rebecca Taylor June 19, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

        I don’t think governments are thinking about losing tax revenue, not unless they are very short-sighted. To estimate the true cost of smoking to society, it is necessary to look at:

        – the cost of healthcare for the 50% of smokers who die prematurely (and often not quickly) due to their habit
        – the cost of treating other health problems suffered by smokers or exacerbated by smoking (inc for example respiratory infections in the children of smokers)
        – any related social care costs for smokers who end up incapacitated by smoking related diseases
        – lost productivity and lost tax revenues from smokers who are off work sick or end up retiring early due to ill health

        When you add all these up, the tax raised from tobacco may pale into insignificance….

        • James Dunworth June 20, 2013 at 8:35 am #

          Hi Rebecca

          I think that generally costs of healthcare are miscalculated.

          – treating smoking diseases is cheaper than treating old age diseases – obviously, if people live longer they suffer from old age diseases
          – fatal smoking diseases, on average, tend to kill smokers after they have retired, and when they have started taking their pensions, so it is not so much as losing a worker’s taxes but saving on pensions

          I am not saying that this is the motivation behind attempts in the UK to restrict access (I simply don’t know) but I am extremely concerned that an MEP in the EU parliament has raised concerns about the loss of tax revenue due to electronic cigarettes, and asked what can be done about it (see here for his full statement) http://www.ecigarettedirect.co.uk/ashtray-blog/2013/05/e-cigarettes-tobacco-tax.html

  8. Adam Williams June 13, 2013 at 5:22 pm #

    I was asked in by the BBC yesterday and was able to give my vew as I saw it ( Before I’d seen the full MRHA statement) I think I pretty much managed a good argument stating much of what has been said here. Go to 56 minutes in and 10 secs.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p019bn6j/Simon_Hoban_12_06_2013/

  9. Dave June 13, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    They want to ban them because kids might try them & like them Ha! Ha! Ha! I notice nothing is said about aclo pops, booze that tastes like pop but with a kick like a mule!
    I no which one I would ban first!

    • James Dunworth June 14, 2013 at 7:59 am #

      And yet the industry via ECITA has been calling for restrictions on selling to children for years – and been ignored!

  10. Jen June 13, 2013 at 7:00 pm #

    I can see between the lines here. Former drug users obtain methadone on prescription! They probably want to do the same thing with vapers! What a world we live in.

  11. Paul Law June 13, 2013 at 8:21 pm #

    What amazes me is to my knowledge there hasn’t been a single reported E-Cig related death, yet its been said there is a death every 5 minutes from analogue related smoking, surely its regular analogue cigarettes that need to be heavily regulated, the medical bill alone must be huge.

    Take nicotine out of the equation and the products found in E-Liquids are found in every day food toothpastes and various other products we consume, there is obviously a hidden agenda here and no doubt it will all come out in the wash, I just wonder how many new start up business’s will suffer, because you all know deep down the licencing will be out of the reach of most of the retailers currently selling these products, and the only ones in a position to afford the licencing will be the big Pharma’s

    • James Dunworth June 14, 2013 at 8:00 am #

      I think it is also likely to be out of some of the bigger companies reach!

  12. Julie Drew June 14, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    All this could also open up the case to sue the government & tobbacco companies (as happened back in the ’70’s & ’80’s); for those who feel they are being forced back on to ciggarettes, and therefore become ill as a result. The other question is – what has happened to ‘freedom of choice’? !!!!!

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