May 16, 2017

TPD is here: What Do U.K. Vapers Need to Know?

Whether we like it or not — and just about no one likes it — the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) is here.

Despite being opposed at every turn by vaping advocates, the ramshackle collection of poorly thought-out proposals is ready to fully come into force on May 20. Even with Brexit in progress, as things stand, the U.K. and its vapers are about to experience a lot of changes in the gear and e-liquids they buy, and manufacturers will have more hurdles to overcome when trying to bring out new products.

Note: there are as many versions of the TPD as there are countries in the European Union. They have many similarities, of course, but this article is not a comprehensive look at each country’s transposition of the TPD. Many vapers in the EU will be able to find details on the TPD regs in their own countries by consulting local consumer groups, or trade associations.

The TPD and TRPR: a crash course for the confused

In a nutshell, the TPD is the set of EU regulations covering sales of all tobacco products, including cigarettes, snus and e-cigarettes.

The TPD was originally created in 2001, but was revised in 2014 to include e-cigarettes. Each member state had to transpose the requirements of the TPD into their own law by May 20, 2016, and the U.K. did this through the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations (TRPR).

The European Union directive governing e-cigarette regulation is a catalogue of poorly designed, disproportionate and discriminatory measures that will achieve nothing useful but do a great deal of harm.

We’ll cover the specific provisions of the TPD in a moment, but it’s important to remember that individual countries can go further than the bare minimum requirements if they choose to (sometimes called “gold plating”). For example, while the TPD doesn’t ban specific flavors, individual member states have the ability to do that if they take a very anti-vaping stance. And some have. For example, Finland will only allow tobacco flavored e-liquid.

Other countries are going beyond the minimum requirements in other ways, too. For example, both Austria and Poland are banning online sales, which will be absolutely devastating to vapers, smokers, and the industry in those countries.

Fortunately, the U.K. has opted for a bare minimum implementation of the rules. Unfortunately, that “bare minimum” is still excessive and counterproductive. The red tape is thick and sticky.

May 20, 2017 – T-Day

May 20is an important date in the whole process. Although the TPD/TRPR technically came into force a year before, manufacturers were given a one-year grace period to sell products that didn’t meet the requirements of the TPD. Provided they notified the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in advance, companies have until May 20 to clear their old stock.

The short explanation is that after May 20, all of your devices and liquids must be TPD-compliant.

What differences will we see?

1. No e-liquid bottles larger than 10 mL

Gone are the days of 30 or even 60 mL bottles of e-liquid. Borne of misplaced fear about the risks of nicotine, the TPD requires that the maximum size for your bottle of e-juice is 10 mL. This means that the same amount of e-liquid will require much more packaging, and either manufacturers or vapers will have to bear the additional cost. The waste and environmental damage that will result is completely avoidable.

2. Maximum tank capacity: 2 mL

This is the rule that will immediately impact vapers the most. Whereas most tanks have capacities of 4 mL or more, the TPD sets an absolute limit at 2 mL. The justification for this is that nicotine is “toxic,” but lawmakers apparently didn’t understand (or care) that nicotine is much less toxic than commonly thought.

While outdated sources say that 60 mg of nicotine could kill an adult, the truth is that it takes 500 to 1,000 mg (or even more). It’s basically impossible that a 4 mL tank could hold enough additional nicotine that it would be more dangerous than a 2 mL tank. Commercial e-juice just isn’t strong enough for an extra 2 mL to pose that much more risk.

This rule will substantially reduce the number of tanks available to vapers, and it will mean you will have to fill up a lot more often. The 2 mL capacity will be especially hard on sub-ohm vapers, who may go through that amount of liquid in just a few puffs! This rule will have absolutely zero benefits to anybody.

3. E-liquid cannot contain more than 20 mg/mL nicotine

Yet again, the fear of nicotine that pervades the TPD shows itself through a restriction that will certainly do more harm than good. The maximum strength for e-liquids will now be 20 mg/mL. Practically that will mean 18 mg/mL, since most commercial liquid companies make their products in that nic level.

How many will return to smoking? And how many smokers will find vaping unsatisfying?

Although 24 mg/mL or higher strength e-liquids are becoming less common anyway, there are still vapers and smokers that need and use them. A recent survey from ASH UK found that about six percent of vapers use e-liquid that will now be banned. This might not sound like a lot, but as the New Nicotine Alliance points out, this equates to almost 175,000 vapers whose needs are being ignored. How many will return to smoking? And how many smokers will find vaping unsatisfying?

4. Specific bottle design requirements

The restrictions on e-liquids aren’t limited to nicotine strength and the size of the bottles. One requirement of the TPD is that the nozzle on the bottle has to be at least 1 cm long, and let out fewer than 20 drops per minute when held upside down without squeezing. Less ridiculously, child-proof caps are also required by the TPD. Of course, most vape manufacturers have been using those for years anyway.

5. Warning labels and pointless packaging

E-liquids, coils and tanks will all have to include a warning label that reads: “This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance.”

To get around the substantial issue that tanks and coils don’t contain nicotine until you add e-liquid, for these products the warning will generally be preceded by “The following warning applies when the product is used with e-liquids containing nicotine.” The warnings themselves have the same bold, black-and-white style as warnings on cigarettes, and need to cover 30 percent or more of the packaging.
A 10 mL e-liquid bottle with a small label doesn’t leave much space for these excessive warnings. So in practice, most bottles of e-liquid will now come in boxes. They will also need to contain a leaflet providing information on safe use of the product.

Other issues for manufacturers

The restrictions above are the ones U.K. vapers are most likely to be directly impacted by, but there is a lot more to the TPD/TRPR for manufacturers. The most important changes for vaping companies include:

  • Six-month notification for new products: All companies have to notify the MHRA six months before being allowed to sell any new product. If the MHRA gets to the submission more quickly than this, they can be marketed sooner. However, this will undoubtedly slow innovation in the vaping industry, and reduce the number of products available to vapers.
  • Emission testing for e-liquids: This is a headache for manufacturers but could ultimately be a good thing for consumers. It’s expensive, but it should build some confidence in the quality of e-juice and do away with the vacuous “we don’t know what’s in it” argument.
  • Advertising restrictions: Companies won’t be allowed to advertise on the TV or radio, in newspapers, with product placement deals, or using online or social media-based promotions.
  • MHRA fees: There are fees for notifying the MHRA about products being marketed (£150 per product) and an annual fee of £60. If a product is substantially modified, notifying them of this costs £80.
  • Enforcement: Employees at Trading Standards — charged with enforcing the rules in the TRPR — may have had no training at all on the subject, according to the NNA.

It’s bad regulation, but vaping will survive

The truth is that the TPD does very little for vapers and causes a lot of unnecessary issues, from pointless packaging to misleading warnings and senseless restrictions. The only silver lining is that the industry can and will survive this. For vapers and manufacturers, May 20 will see a raft of unwelcome and unhelpful restrictions come into force, but vaping will still be an option for smokers looking for a safer way to enjoy nicotine.

Despite all the hoops vapers and manufacturers will have to jump through, this could be much worse. Frankly, compared to the FDA’s disastrous deeming regulations, the TPD is a walk in the park.

Lee is a writer and vaper from the UK. He quit smoking (without intending to) in 2012, and now spends his time writing about the conflict between science and ideology in the vaping debate. He's a firm believer that smokers deserve the facts on tobacco harm reduction without the fearmongering. He probably drinks too much tea.

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