Voters in the UK decided by a narrow margin to leave the European Union, and the country will now begin the long, messy job of negotiating the divorce with its partner of over 40 years. Vapers who voted to leave based on the machinations that led to the implementation of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) may be surprised to find that nothing much will change anytime soon, and perhaps for much longer — or maybe ever.
There isn’t much detailed information available about vaping post-EU, but I think I’ve found a couple of very good sources. Clive Bates, who advocated for the UK to remain in the EU, wrote an excellent blog describing the likely results, and included a small section on vaping. What he said strikes me (an American who had no stake in the outcome or preference) as sound thinking. Sarah Jakes is a trustee of the New Nicotine Alliance. She offered some personal thoughts on the TPD and the Brexit vote (the NNA itself took no position on the election). And while she personally supported leaving, I don’t detect any bias in her analysis either. She is one of the most pragmatic of vaping advocates, and seems quite aware of all the potential benefits and pitfalls of the Brexit.
Why do so many British vapers hate the EU?
The TPD — really Article 20 of the TPD, which addressed e-cigarettes — was opposed by nearly every vaper, vapor business, and vaping advocate in the UK and the rest of the EU. Yet the unelected Brussels bureaucrats and their uninformed partners in the European Parliament seemed to ignore all advice and opinion from consumers, business and scientists, and instead crafted rules that did nothing to protect public health, and in fact didn’t do much of anything except promulgate a set of pointless and burdensome restrictions.
Clive Bates actually puts much of the blame on the British themselves. “One reason, perhaps the main reason, why the TPD is so dire,” he writes, “is that the entire deliberative legislative process was consumed and wasted arguing over the UK-promoted and Commission-adopted idea of regulating e-cigarettes as medicines. The efforts required to overcome fundamental misunderstandings meant there was no space to discuss what should be done in a rational regulatory regime – and the actual TPD Article 20 was all cobbled together in few secret amateurish political meetings after the medicine proposal was defeated.”
It was defeated largely due to pressure from vapers. “But the only reason we don’t have mandatory medicine regulation for e-cigarettes in the UK,” writes Bates, “is because this policy was reversed in the European Parliament on 8 October 2013, after a brilliant pan-European lobbying campaign by vapers.” Sarah Jakes was one of those vapers. “Having successfully overturned the proposal to regulate vapour products as medicines,” she wrote in a message, “vapers watched in despair as the resultant regulations were created behind closed doors, by people who did not understand either the products or the consumers, and without considering the impact on either the consumers or the industry.”
Jakes doesn’t differentiate between British EU representatives and those from other countries. “The process surrounding the creation of the TPD and in particular Article 20, opened our eyes to the lack of accountability or transparency inherent in the EU system and this was not an attractive view.”
That is a short version of why many — but certainly not all — British vapers were eager to leave the EU, and why so many who supported Brexit were very vocal about it. However, the idea that vapers swung the election is not necessarily true. Yes, there are a couple million vapers in the UK. But there is no real evidence about how many voted to leave, or for that matter, how many voted at all. Having said that, all UK vapers have an interest in what happens next.
What will happen immediately?
The short answer is nothing. The vapor products provisions of the TPD will stay in effect until the UK negotiates the terms of its exit from the EU. Presumably the government will continue on the path it has already begun, enforcing the regulations lightly and creating as little disruption to vapers as the regulations allow. But a new government could make different choices.
If the EU introduces taxes on e-cigs before the UK exits (the plan is to do this next year), that will be another point — and a very minor one in the larger scheme of things — to be negotiated in the separation.
Should the shockwaves created by the Brexit cause economic distress (the value of the British pound dropped significantly in the immediate aftermath of the vote), the whole country will feel the results. But declining currency value, for example, won’t affect vapers particularly.
What will happen later?
Bear in mind that many EU regulations will probably survive the split, since the UK will still have to satisfy its partners in order to achieve attractive terms in whatever trade deals they work out. “We are likely to negotiate a settlement that requires compliance with single market regulations,” writes Clive Bates. “So we could leave the EU and still have the TPD, with no say on its future. This is not certain but the most likely outcome in my view.”
That’s not likely to sit well with vapers, but if the UK must submit to EU regulations to maintain its trading relationship with EU countries, rules on vapor products will be low on the list of topics to fight over. Vapers may think it’s a central issue, but when negotiators are engaging over terms of agricultural, military and industrial trade, e-cigs will hardly register. Barnaby Page of Ecig Intelligence wrote that “e-cigarette regulation is hardly likely to be a prime concern of government.” As Bates says, bad regulations are bad enough, but to have no say in their adoption is worse.
Sarah Jakes notes that the TPD “could, in theory, be replaced with something worse.”
The UK is the most vape-friendly country in the world. Leaving the EU removes that positive British influence from the process of creating future regulations. “There was also the hope,” says Sarah Jakes, “that with France moving towards greater acceptance of the benefits of vaping for smokers, an alliance could have been created between the UK and France which would have been very influential in the EU.” This may hurt British vapers if the UK is forced to live with EU terms in the final trade agreement, but even if it doesn’t, it may negatively affect vapers in the EU.
There is also the question of funding for science on e-cigs. Much of the best science has come from the UK, and a lot of it comes from EU grants. Debora MacKenzie wrote an interesting article last week in MIT Technology Review, explaining that Brexit would cause a lot of science funding to disappear, and also prevent future collaboration between British scientists and colleagues from EU countries. And funding from the UK government is at risk too. “British chancellor George Osborne said last week that he would have to slash public spending to pay for the costs of Brexit, estimated to total $100 billion by 2020,” writes MacKenzie. “That, he says, would include hitherto untouchable budgets for health care. Science seems likely to be even more vulnerable to cuts.”
For vapers, the future just isn’t clear. “The question of what vapers can expect next cannot be answered by anyone at this stage,” says Sarah Jakes. “Much will depend on how hard we fight and who will be in government in the not too distant future – but at least we will be masters of our own destiny, or demise.”