Until recently, the vaping industry seemed to be on surer footing in the United Kingdom than anywhere else in the world. While other governments have instituted severe restrictions on vaping products – or banned them entirely – our National Health Service fully endorses vaping as a legitimate way to quit smoking. When it became obvious that vaping wasn’t a fad and that it was necessary to institute common-sense regulations that kept vaping products as safe as possible, the European Union drafted and enacted the Tobacco Products Directive in 2014.
The UK – still a member of the EU then – abided by the TPD. Although consumers may not have loved the limitations that the TPD imposed, they could at least be confident that, with a well-defined set of legal rules in place, there was no need to fear that vaping would suddenly be regulated out of existence or that certain types of vaping products would become illegal.
Then, Brexit happened – and now, vaping in the UK exists in a sort of regulatory limbo. We continue to respect and abide by the TPD, but we are no longer an EU member state. It seems unlikely that we’ll maintain the status quo forever, and that’s left some UK vapers and vape shop owners feeling worried. How are UK vaping regulations going to change in 2021 and 2022?
While we don’t have a crystal ball, it is possible to envision certain possible scenarios. Here’s what could happen to vaping in the UK over the coming years.
The UK Has a Powerful Incentive to Ensure Vaping Continues to Exist
It is not entirely outside the realm of possibility that the UK will one day enact stricter and less consumer-friendly vaping regulations. In this article, we’ll cover the two scenarios that could lead to that. We’ll begin, however, on a more positive note.
The good news is that, in broad terms, the UK government supports vaping as a means of helping people quit smoking and reducing the harm caused by nicotine use. Our government understands the key role that vaping can play – and is already playing – in public health. Our lawmakers have set forth the Smokefree 2030 mandate with the goal of eliminating virtually all smoking in the United Kingdom within the next decade. The only realistic way to achieve that goal is by ensuring that vaping products remain appealing to smokers, widely available and affordable to buy. That’s backed up by a report from Public Health England, which states that vaping produces the highest quit rates of all smoking cessation aids.
So, while it is possible that the UK will continue to use the TPD as the basis for its vaping regulations in the future even if the TPD becomes less consumer friendly, that’s not likely because any regulation that makes vapers want to revert back to smoking – or makes smokers decide against switching to vaping – runs contrary to our country’s public health goals. It is far more likely that the UK Parliament will eventually draft its own set of vaping regulations, and those regulations most likely will be reasonable and consumer friendly.
There is, however, one thing about any potential new UK vaping regulations that consumers may not like.
New UK Vaping Taxes Are Possible
When you think about the ways in which UK vaping laws might change in the future, one of the things you must consider is the cost of our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Combating COVID cost an enormous amount of money – and just when our government needed funds the most, millions of people were out of work and were contributing less tax revenue than normal. In the fiscal year ending April 2021, the UK government was forced to borrow £303 billion. That’s the most we’ve ever borrowed outside wartime. Deficit spending can’t last forever, and cost cutting isn’t a skill most governments possess. It is very plausible that our government will have to make up for its revenue shortfalls by increasing taxes.
Raising the income tax is a very unpopular way to generate revenue. Income tax increases affect everyone, and a general tax increase right now would come at a time when many people can ill afford it. In other words, raising the income tax would likely spell the end of many politicians’ careers. It’s much easier to add tariffs to products that only certain people use. Tobacco taxes, for instance, have always been an easy way for governments to raise money because most people do not smoke and therefore will not contest those taxes. In addition, tobacco taxes help to pay for the enormous burdens that smokers place on their nations’ healthcare systems. Vaping products could be next.
Before instituting a tax on vaping products, elected officials will need to carefully consider the impact that such a tax would have on public health. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, for instance, the UK government collected £9.29 billion in tobacco taxes. During that same year, the healthcare burden created by smokers was £12.6 billion. Tobacco taxes help to offset but do not fully cover smokers’ healthcare costs. From a fiscal standpoint, then, decreasing smoking rates is far more efficient in the long run than increasing tobacco taxes. A tax on vaping products would be self-defeating because it would reduce quit rates. It’s still an untapped revenue channel, though, so a tax could eventually come either way.
TPD Revisions Are Coming, and Consumers May Not Like Them
Let’s suppose, on the other hand, that the UK never enacts its own vaping regulations and that we continue to follow the TPD instead. The TPD is an EU law – and since we are no longer an EU state, future revisions to the TPD won’t include our input.
Revisions to the TPD are definitely coming, and vapers aren’t likely to be happy with everything those revisions will contain.
So, what does the future hold for “TPD3?” We can’t be certain, but it seems possible that some EU member states may propose an e-liquid flavour ban using the potential for youth initiation as justification. Some EU member states have already banned – or are planning to ban – flavoured e-liquid. UK vapers will want to watch developments in this area closely. Teen vaping has never been a problem here, and flavoured e-liquid has always played a key role in helping smokers quit. UK vapers and consumer advocates should strongly oppose adopting any EU regulation that restricts adults’ product choices.