May 20 is the day of reckoning. Retailers and vapers have had a year’s “grace period” to sell and clear remaining stock, but as of Saturday morning, only TPD-compliant vape gear and e-liquids will be available on the EU market.
Lee Johnson already wrote a comprehensive overview of the TPD regulations. The purpose of this article is to inform vapers of some workarounds to the new rules. A fine reading of the small print reveals that all is not as black and white as it first seems. Many of these “vapehacks” are already common practice among retailers and e-liquid producers in the EU.
Let’s take a closer look at seven key features of the new regs – and ways to work around them.
#1 No e-liquid bottles larger than 10 mL
FACT: The TPD regulation limits the size of e-liquid bottles to 10 mL, as well as imposing other strict control measures on them: bottles must have a securely attached nozzle at least 9 mm in length, and a control flow mechanism that emits no more than 20 drops of e-liquid per minute when placed vertically. Bottle packaging must include the warning “This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance”, and this warning must cover 30% of the package surface. The maximum nicotine concentration in any e-liquid cannot exceed 20 mg/mL. Finally, all bottles must be child-resistant, tamper-evident, and protected against breakage and leakage.
HACK:The good news is that if you produce your e-liquid without nicotine, you will not be subject to the 10 mL rule. Manufacturers in the UK (and elsewhere I’m sure) are already selling pre-mixed e-liquid in 10 mL bottles inside a larger bottle, like a Chubby Gorilla for example. This can be great for vapers, because it means they get to sample an e-liquid line before they buy a larger quantity of one particular e-liquid.
What this also means is that the EU market is transitioning. The age of the nicotine shot is upon us. In the future, EU vapers may simply buy whatever flavor of e-liquid they like (usually in 30 or 60 mL bottles) and add the nicotine shots they want to it. To put that into perspective, a TPD-compliant 10 mL bottle of flavorless 20 mg/mL nicotine concentrate added to e-liquid will make 6 mg/mL at 30 mL, and 3 mg/mL at 60 mL. Steep, shake, and vape.
#2 E-liquids are subject to an expensive screening process and 6-month turnaround
FACT: As it stands in the UK, companies must notify the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) six months in advance before being allowed to sell any new product. In addition to that, e-liquids need to be processed in a certified lab (subject to annual quality control checks) and must be submitted to chemical analyses and toxicological tests. A quick search for test pricing reveals a base cost of at least £3,000 per e-liquid. As a result, less profitable e-liquid lines have been axed due to the prohibitive cost of testing.
HACK: Once again, the regulations specifically pertain only to e-liquids containing nicotine. E-liquids that are nic-free do not need to go through this testing process. Products that do not meet the definition (such as 0% nicotine e-liquids) are out of scope of the TPD and do not have to meet its requirements. The regulations are aimed at manufacturers and retailers. If you make your own e-liquids and don’t sell them on the market, you are also unaffected. Refer to #1 for more info.
#3 2 mL maximum tank capacity
FACT: The TPD stipulates the maximum capacity for a “disposable electronic cigarette, a single use cartridge, or a tank” to not exceed 2 mL.
HACK: While it’s true that it’s kinda hard to sub ohm your **** off with a 2 mL tank, the Great Tank Amnesty is not yet upon us. Keep calm and vape on whatever you already have. Finding sub ohm tanks and RDTAs over 2 mL in the shops will be difficult and/or impossible, but how does this affect drippers?
At points like this it becomes clear that the regulations are ambiguous, and poorly written. Is an RDA a tank? Nope. Does it meet the definition of a cartridge? No again. For an RDA to fall under the regulations, it must be demonstrated that it is used with e-liquid that contains nicotine. That’s why some vape shops have started to divide their stock between kits and so-called “competition gear”. The kits are intended for vaping with nicotine and are fully TPD compliant. The competition gear includes drippers and mech mods, and are intended to be used without nicotine. While this strategy may not be completely watertight, only time will tell if it works.
Many manufacturers now produce “TPD versions” of popular devices. When you buy a kit, you’ll often find a spare glass tank. Depending on what you buy, that replacement might be slightly bigger than the original. It’s now up to the manufacturers to toe the line. You can imagine the nightmare customs officials will face if they have to open every single vape mail parcel arriving in the EU from China. The worst thing that can happen to you as a consumer is that your parcel is confiscated.
#4 “Grace period” stock and e-liquids on the market until May 19th
FACT: Non-TPD-compliant stock must be sold by the end of May 19th. Remaining stock cannot be given away or distributed using other means. After that date, remaining stock will be disposed of at the expense of the retailer.
HACK: There are huge sales right now from all manner of vape shops throughout the EU. Check out websites, Facebook, Instagram and all the usual suspects for significant savings.
#5 Maximum nicotine strength of 20 mg/mL
FACT: Nicotine-containing liquid which is presented for retail sale in an electronic cigarette or refill container must not contain nicotine in excess of 20 mg/mL.
HACK: In reality, many e-liquid manufacturers will produce nicotine to an 18 mg/mL concentration, to allow for a margin of error. Although this restriction will hardly effect vapers who sub ohm (typically at 6 mg/mL or lower), it’s going to be hard for people who are transitioning from analogs to vaping devices. The answer? Nicotine shots. Refer to #1.
#6 Advertising restrictions
FACT: Advertising of electronic-cigarettes and refill containers will be restricted in the press, information society services, television, and for events. In this regulation “electronic cigarette sponsorship” means any form of public or private contribution to any event, activity or individual, with the aim or direct or indirect effect of promoting an electronic cigarette or refill container.
HACK: This part of the legislation places similar restrictions on the vaping industry as big tobacco. It could impact vapefests and large vaping events in the EU. Depending on how you define “event, activity or individual,” it may curtail companies giving out samples for review.
This may be an area where we see a lot of change and ingenuity in the vaping industry. Mods are not covered in the regulations, since they are only nicotine delivery devices when connected to a tank. Similarly, a refill container is only covered when it contains nicotine.
FACT: A retailer or manufacturer guilty of breaking any of the regulations is subject to a fine and/or imprisonment, the duration varying from state to state.
HACK: The new regulations are only as effective as the people employed to enforce them. In many places, it will be members of the local council who are responsible for random spot checks and enforcing fines. You’d think the onus would be on the regulators to read up on vaping and do their research…but will they? It has never been more important for vapers to speak out and demystify vaping for the skeptics.
In war there are no winners, only survivors
The TPD regulations are subject to review at least every five years. Unfortunately, in 2022 vapers in the EU will no longer have the UK fighting the regulations along with them. That’s a shame, because the UK has been one of the loudest voices urging moderation of vaping regulations in the EU. It will be up to vapers in France, Poland and elsewhere to fight and repeal the TPD.
Vaping will survive the TPD regulations and similar draconian measures elsewhere. You may be the sort of person who buys from overseas vendors, mixing and matching different gear. But the vast majority of vapers buy what’s available in stores. The TPD will be most strongly felt at the retail level. It will also do most harm where ironically the most help is needed – to assist smokers getting off analogs.
If you’re a vaper who uses some of these hacks to work around the TPD, you’re one of the lucky ones. Most vapers, unfortunately, will never know any better.
For the information in this article I am indebted to conversations I had in and around Belfast with good people in the vaping community. Many thanks to James and Jamie @Titanic Vapour, Matt @Kix, Adam @e-cig shop, Richard @Nom Nomz, Blair and Reece @Cloud Corp, John @Runny Nose, and Stephen @Belfast Vape Bar.
What’s your TPD vapehack?
We are curious to know how the TPD regulations are affecting you. Some countries have banned in-shop testing, and cross-border sales. What’s your story? Please let us know in the comments.