When our organisation launched in 2016 the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) was already a reality. Our immediate challenge was not fighting the TPD, but credibly influencing its implementation in the UK. Whilst our engagement has produced a better regulation set than was originally proposed, industry and vapers should be under no illusion that the IBVTA is happy with the current situation – we are not.
As an organisation, we continue to engage with all levels of government to make the case for proportionate, evidence based regulation. While we work on getting vaping into its own specific regulatory regime, reputable businesses need a level playing field on which to operate. If “doing the right thing” is not to become a disincentive as well as a competitive disadvantage, it was vital that these new regulations were enforced from day one.
The failure of regulators to do so has meant that those companies that have not done the “right thing” continue to sell (and in many cases continue to manufacture and import) products that are not compliant with Tobacco and Related Products Regulation 2016 (TRPR), yet will have borne none of the significant overheads that the responsible elements of the industry have accepted, whether they agreed with the regulations or not.
This does not just affect the responsible industry, but also the UK’s 2.9 million vapers. One of the original objectives of the TPD was to protect consumer safety, therefore if an element of the vape industry does not comply with relevant legislation, the reputation of the industry amongst those who can champion the good that vaping can do, is at risk.
To gain a better picture of the state of compliance and enforcement across the country, we sent Freedom of Information requests to all local authorities in the UK with a Trading Standards authority. We also surveyed our members to gain insight into the effect that the regulations were having on their businesses. The results of both should be of real concern to anyone with an interest in the public health proposition of this exciting and valuable sector.
The overall picture is mixed. In some parts of the country Trading Standards are doing their job with regards to vaping products and we acknowledge that, but in far too many areas they are not. We make a series of recommendations in our report “The State of Compliance – One year on from the TRPR” which we launched in Parliament this week, and which must serve as a wake-up call to local and national politicians to take action and support these vital independent businesses.
Two thirds of local authorities have received reports of vaping products non-compliance, but just 61.25 per cent of these reports have been actioned nationally. The definition of actioning will differ within each local authority.
Nearly 40 per cent of local authorities have carried out no investigations into vaping non-compliance. Nationally, Trading Standards have only actioned just over half of reports they have received from local businesses and consumers of non-compliance. This is unacceptable. If basic action was too much to expect given the well documented resource issues local authorities are facing, legislators should not have placed this responsibility on Trading Standards. If further resources are required, the Government should look to the actions taken by the Scottish Government prior to the implementation of the TRPR which will see an injection of £1.34 million for councils in each of the next three years to allow councils to employ additional staff to assist with the enforcement of the new regulations, alongside a training program.
Online giants such as eBay and Amazon are regularly mentioned by our members as places where non-compliance flourishes. These marketplaces must review their vaping products policies and ensure that as a minimum, businesses on their platforms comply with their own Terms of Service. Policing of these platforms by the marketplaces themselves, as well as enforcement bodies, must improve.
Poorly written regulation is not just harming our businesses, it is also having an effect on consumer confidence in vaping. Despite Public Health England’s recent review which heralds vaping as at least 95 per cent safer than smoking, research undertaken by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) shows that 25 per cent of adults still believe vaping is just as or more harmful than smoking.
The Government must review the inclusion of vaping in the TRPR at the earliest possible opportunity, and introduce proportionate, risk based, vape specific legislation which allows as many smokers as possible switch away from smoking. Post-Brexit, we have an opportunity to get the regulation right, in ways it isn’t now. Restrictions on tank and bottle sizes as well as the restrictions on nicotine levels all serve to make vaping less attractive to a smoker when the goal of smokers switching is in the interests of public health as well as for the bottom line of the exchequer.
The consumer led, market based insurgency of vaping has seen in excess of 1.6 million people stop smoking completely, at no cost to the taxpayer. Now the independent vaping industry needs the support of its regulators and politicians to allow vaping to reach its full potential.