IBVTA statement on media reports of over filled vape products
The IBVTA does not condone products that are non-compliant, however immaterial this is to consumer safety.
We believe that some of the limits placed on vape products should be revised. Nonetheless, the TRPR notification process has historically formed a good framework for manufacturers and the wider industry to act to ensure good governance around product standards.
The responsibility of producers to adhere to the regulations in the strictest fashion is imperative. Retailers must also ensure that they only stock notified products, safe in the assumption that the manufacturer is delivering a product which meets the necessary regulatory requirements. Whilst many distributors are now implementing their own due diligence checks, which will add a further level of scrutiny, it remains the primary responsibility of the notifier/producer to ensure they strictly adhere to the regulations.
Anyone either knowingly or unknowingly flouting these regulations must swiftly act to bring their product back into compliance, and the notification process enables this action under the guidance of regulators.
Illegal products which find their way onto the UK market filled with as much as 20ml of e-liquid, and for which safety or toxicological tests are not supplied to the MHRA, must have equal, if not more focus. They represent a tangible threat to consumers and the sector alike. Equally complicit are the retailers who choose to stock these products or suggest ignorance to where they are sourced. As an industry we must continue to support greater resources to enable enforcement agencies to act.
Unfortunately, as we have learned recently, there are manufacturers with notified products who are alleged, or indeed who have been found, to flout these rules. There are also importers who have taken those producers at their word and therefore did not conduct any further product due diligence. This reflects badly on vaping, even if the non-compliance in question is technical, rather than being of any immediate consumer safety risk.
Therefore, it’s essential that all concerned collaborate to bring discipline and multiple levels of due diligence into effect. The independent vape industry has worked extremely hard for over a decade now to build this market and to steer vaping to being the most popular, most effective and most cost-effective tool for smokers to quit. Continuing success and confidence in the sector is imperative.
Clearly recent discoveries of technical non-compliance in otherwise properly manufactured and notified products have had consequences for those involved. A number of products have been removed from the supply chain entirely, or further supply withdrawn until compliance requirements can be met. Those brands that understand the situation are making fully compliant supplies of their products available in the UK as quickly as they reasonably can. The intent has been to bring the market into compliance as quickly and smoothly as possible.
The IBVTA has worked constructively with regulators, enforcement bodies and its members over recent weeks to enable dialogue and make enforcement bodies’ best practice advice clear to its members. We also encourage members and the producers they work with to provide regular updates on corrective actions completed, and those that are planned for immediate or future action. We understand that these updates have been regularly forthcoming.
Notwithstanding all of this, the IBVTA is becoming increasingly concerned that the tobacco industry and its affiliates are using this minority non-compliance to build a narrative that the independent vape industry cannot be trusted. Furthermore, we are concerned about the way this is being done; at times using incorrect terminology for enforcement actions, overstating the risks associated with over-filled products, and misrepresenting the remits of regulators, enforcement agencies and industry players.
Whilst we recognise the findings that BAT have reported, and that have prompted actions which will drive greater compliance to this sector, it is important to recognise that vape products are known to be at least 95% less harmful than the fatal products that form the mainstay of BAT’s business. Vape products are also known to be less addictive than combustible cigarettes. Their point of contention is on a technicality of non-compliance, which means they have a marginally longer life in use. The issue raised is not on product safety grounds, nor on any grounds of consumer confidence, as BAT have suggested. More specifically, it is important to recognise that any unintended consequence of BAT’s actions, and the associated media reporting could well lead to a lack of confidence from retailers and consumers in the vaping category. This could result in movement back to a product that is unquestionably responsible for tens of thousands of fatalities every year.
Any claim that BAT have made about commitment to reduced harm should now be questioned. Their request for the de-listing of products to meet the aim of compliance could risk vapers returning to smoking. No matter how small that proportion, BAT are directly requesting action that can and will cause tobacco harm.
In failing to report that detail, and not talking to retailers and wholesale businesses already involved in corrective action for these issues for balance, the media, all too quick to paint vaping as a ‘bad news story’, are complicit in this.
When it comes to enforcement, the IBVTA will always act according to the responsibilities we hold, and always in the interests of our members and stakeholders alike. But we will never act outside our remit. Part of our role as a trade body is to ensure our members are aware of their legal obligations and wider responsibilities, to enable our members to meet those requirements by providing guidance and other tools, and to make sure our members are meeting them.
It is not our role to act as an enforcement agency, nor do we try to imitate one. Non-compliance in the sector that is reported to us, regardless of the origin of the intelligence, is passed onto the relevant authorities.