A UK government consultation on e-cigarette restrictions is due to conclude on 6 December 2023, with restrictions on flavours and disposable vapes amongst the proposed regulatory changes. In this episode James Dunworth, chairman of E-Cigarette Direct, joins us to discuss this consultation, and the opportunity it provides for vapers to make their voices heard.
Check the link on the UK Vaping Consultation:
Chapters:0:00 - Intro with Joanna Junak 0:56 - James Dunworth on the UK vaping consultation 4:05 - Flavour bans could undo vaping wins 5:52 - Consultation proposes point-of-sale vape restrictions 7:37 - Black market sales may hamper disposable ban 10:18 - A chance for vapers to voice their concerns 12:08 - Will new regulations close vaping loopholes? 15:45 - Consultation ends 6 Dec 2023 16:53 - Closing remarks
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Joanna Junak: Hello and welcome. I'm Joanna Junak and this is GFN News on GFN.TV. Smoking is the single biggest preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in the UK. Since vaping has become popular in the UK, smoking rates have fallen to the lowest in decades. Now, the UK government is consulting on a range of tobacco and nicotine policy measures. Joining us today to discuss the key points of the UK proposals is James Dunworth, Chairman of e-Cigarette Direct, author of the Ashtray Block and Steering Committee Member of the Independent British Vape Trade Association. Hello James! Let's start with the proposal regarding restricting flavours.
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James Dunworth: Yeah, there's three options being proposed. So one is to limit how flavours are described. So for example, you could call a flavour blueberry, but you couldn't call it blueberry muffin. The second option is to limit the ingredients in vapes. And the third option is just to limit all the flavours available. So potentially you would only have tobacco allowed. I think the last one and probably the second one are unlikely. I think there'd be too much opposition from it in the UK, which is good because it's quite clear from the evidence that flavor restrictions lead to an increase in smoking. I think one study showed that for every vape pod that wasn't sold in America because of flavor restrictions, you saw an increase in sales of 15 cigarettes. And it's also clear, of course, you know, this is going to apply, obviously, to legitimate products. The black market won't take any notice of it. According to trading standards, one third of disposable vapes in the UK sold are illegal. And it could be more. I've heard reports that it's a lot more than that. And so what we would see is illegal devices becoming more popular and fewer legitimate vapes being sold. And we don't, you know, we don't have to use our imagination here. We can we can look at other countries for this. So in America, for example, where they have strict flavor restrictions, there's been a huge upsurge in the sales of illegal vape devices. And we know from tests on these illegal vapes that there are problems with them. There have been many things, bad things found in them, which are not found in legal vapes when they're tested, such as heavy metals. There've been zero nicotine vapes sold to get around regulations like they have on Amazon. And those have been found to have high levels of nicotine in them. So potentially some serious problems there. And even I think with the first option in limiting how they are described, especially using the example they gave of blueberry versus blueberry muffin, I think there's some serious problems there. There's problems for the companies that sell them. So I mean, how do you sell a product if you can't describe what it tastes like? I think you're also decreasing the effectiveness of vaping as a tool for quitting smoking as an alternative to smoking. You know, after all, if people have been in vaping for a while, know that for some people, it's finding that one flavour that finally helps them make the switch from smoking to cigarettes. And again, even with the most liberal option, you're still increasing the attraction of illegal vapes in comparison to legitimate vapes.
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Joanna Junak: Fears surrounding youth vaping continue to influence restrictions of safer nicotine products. Do you think restricting flavors will reduce youth vaping?
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James Dunworth: It's hard to know for sure, but I think if you do have reduced youth vaping, we have research that shows you have increased smoking rates. So we've seen that when you restrict vaping, you have an increase in the number of people smoking among the 18 to 24 age group. And it seems likely that would be carried on to younger people as well. Because I mean since vaping has come along, smoking rates have dropped tremendously in the UK. And now it's below 1% smoking rates, but a lot of children have experimented with smoking. So around about 12% of children have experimented with it. But now, you know, they tend to go to vaping instead of cigarettes. So there is a danger that if, you know, we could be successful in reducing vaping somewhat, because the black market will still be available. and let's face it, these children aren't buying it from legitimate sources, they're getting it on the black market, or they're buying it from disreputable convenience sources, which already aren't following the regulations. But if we do reduce vaping rates, the cost may be increased smoking rates.
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Joanna Junak: Okay, and what about regulations regarding point-of-sale displays? What's the UK government's proposal?
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James Dunworth: Oh, yes. So the the first option is to move vapes behind the counter so they're not on shelves. And the second option is to do that and to hide them behind a cabinet like they do with tobacco cigarettes. For the for the first option, I think there is a rationale for it because it's very easy for someone under the age of 18 to shoplift a vape which is on the shelves and a lot of the discount stores where people are currently buying these things, there's a lot of products there it's hard to police, so I think there's a rationale for moving them behind the counter but I think to go beyond that is to go too far, because at the moment, a lot of people in the UK already think that vaping is as bad or worse than smoking. And by treating vaping in the same way as cigarettes, you're reinforcing the perception that there's no point in switching from smoking to vaping. Well, there's no point in vaping instead of smoking. As we know, we know from the UK government research, it's at least 95% safer. So, you know, for harm reduction, you really want to enforce that impression that vaping is better and you should vape instead of smoking even while at the same time you know we obviously want to stop people who haven't smoked from starting to vape.
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Joanna Junak: The next proposal is about restricting the supply and sale of disposable vaping products. There has been significant debate about the impact these products have on the environment, on the black market and the use among young people. Are these fears justified?
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James Dunworth: I have a lot of sympathy for people who look at the issue without being deep in it. From a brief overview, it's easy to see why people would want to ban disposable vapes. I mean, they have got their problems. I think they're expensive for users, this is one of the most expensive ways to vape. And the environmental problems are clear, we've all seen them thrown away on the street. A lot of them aren't recycled. And they clearly have their problems. And I said, I was originally asked to do an interview on this. I say, well, I'm not sure where I stand, maybe they should be banned, but I went away and went away and looked in deep into it. Again, there's big problems with banning them. One of them, again, I think, is that the black market is there. The black market is not going to go away. And it's also interesting to look at why some charities are opposing the ban. So for example, there's an environmental recycling charity, which is opposing a ban on disposable vapes. That's because they can't hold black market sellers to account. So black market sellers won't contribute towards the recycling schemes in the UK. They won't pay a fee towards recycling. They're not going to collect disposable vapes. Certainly we're not going to see any progress made in making it easier to recycle disposable vape devices. Secondly, there's also a subgroup of people who find it difficult to use regular vapes. So you're seeing some of the stop smoking charities like Yorkshire Cancer Research, they really want to keep disposable vapes for people who have disability issues or dexterity issues. I do think, though, that we should really have a campaign to try and persuade people to switch to reusable vape devices. If you go to a dedicated vape store, you're going to get this advice that it's better to use reusable vape devices. But in general stores, they don't have the capacity or the knowledge to give that advice. So the general campaign to get people to move away from disposable vape devices, I think, would be a very good thing.
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Joanna Junak: The UK is one of the global leaders in tobacco harm reduction. So what does the UK consultations mean for tobacco harm reduction on a more global scale?
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James Dunworth: Well, I'm not such an expert here, but if it leads to poorly thought out regulations, which paints vaping in a negative light and has some unintended consequences, I think it could be pretty bad for global tobacco harm reduction. I mean, most of the world, you've seen some pretty draconian restrictions and poorly thought out regulations. But the UK has been, at least in this one area, shining light in harm reduction. And I think the example that sensible proportionate regulation has given, has provided a lot of hope for people in other countries where the regulations are not so well thought out. So I think that there could be some negative repercussions here. However, one area I do have hope is that there is a consultation here and that vapers are being asked for their views, nobody's being excluded. So we do have the opportunity to feed back to the government and that's why I think it's crucial that people respond to the regulation and not just vape companies and charities and organisations. I think it's really important that actual vapers share their experiences of how vaping helped them get off smoking and what's important to them so that the government can make an informed decision on this.
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Joanna Junak: The UK government has a lot of existing regulations regarding vaping products. Why is the UK still adding new rules instead of trying to enforce these existing ones?
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James Dunworth: I think it's two elements of this. So first, I think there are odd areas of regulations where where it doesn't make sense. And there needs to be some cleaning up of the regulations. And they were very poorly thought through in the first place. So, for example, currently is legal to give e-cigs as a sample to under 18. That makes no sense to get rid of that. The zero nicotine e-liquid and nicotine containing e-liquid fall under different sets of regulations. That doesn't make any sense, I'd bring zero nicotine e-liquids under the same set of regulations, then people can also have confidence that the e-liquids they're buying have been properly tested. But it's also true that we have existing regulations that are not being enforced and it seems strange to bring in more regulations which may not be enforced when you haven't seen if the existing regulations could work first. Of course one problem we have is that the trading standards in this country are very much underfunded and they don't have the resources to properly enforce it. And we also have the problem that when people are caught breaking the laws, the fines are often low or sometimes non-existent. Now some trading standards have done very well educating businesses which were breaking the law because they were ignorant about it. And that's a good option. I think for people who repeatedly and deliberately flout the law, there should be much harsher penalties. One possible alternative option would be to look at a vape licensing scheme. Now in the UK, the Alcancell licensing scheme is well established and it's well regarded and it's pretty effective. In fact, I heard someone from the MHRI talk recently about when he was working in trading standards, how well this system had worked for alcohol shops. So I think there's several advantages to having a vape licensing scheme. One, it could raise the funds that trading standards need for enforcement. Two, I think it would make trading standards life easier. So if at first you hear of a shop that is breaking regulations, Instead of having to go and search the shop and try and find illegal vape products, you could just check to see if it's registered. So that's much easier than entering a shop and doing a search. Thirdly, I think it would really increase the motivation of retailers which sell vapes to comply with the regulations. A solution like this would be a great way to try and enforce existing regulations and see if these are going to make an impact on new vaping before we try new untested regulations, which could potentially reduce the effectiveness of vaping as a tobacco harm reduction aid and would encourage the sale of illegal and potentially dangerous devices.
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Joanna Junak: And a final question to you, James. When can we expect any results from the consultation?
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James Dunworth: Well, the consultation responses have to be in by, I think it's December the 9th. So then there'll be a time reviewing it. And I imagine the results will be announced. But there's a good possibility that with the run up to a general election, that nothing will happen until after the general election. So I don't know. I don't. One of the problems we've got, I think, is we have a very unpopular government which is desperate to do something that is positive and a lot of people worried about smoking and vaping so I think they've seen it as an easy target for regulation but hopefully their response will be well thought out and considered and we'll see some sensible things which could help vaping or reduce youth vaping rather than a quick vote winner.
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Joanna Junak: Thank you, James. That's all for today. Tune in next time here on GFN TV or on our podcast. You can also find transcriptions of each episode on the GFN TV website. Thanks for watching or listening. See you next time.