Sales and studies show the popularity of electronic cigarettes has soared in the last few years, and the United Kingdom is probably the second biggest market, after the US. That could change if the Government decides to go ahead with its plan of licensing the product.
Over 650,000 UK smokers have switched to e-cigarettes last year, and around two million have tried them at least once, according to a survey by the charity Action on Smoking and Health. Those are pretty impressive figures, considering we’re talking about a novelty item, and it’s this kind of success in a complicated economy that has had analysts comparing electronic cigarettes with other hot niches like energy drinks. Even tobacco companies have noticed this new product is peeling away at their consumer base and instead of fighting the inevitable, decided to invest in the category. Sadly, the growth in sales and popularity only made electronic cigarettes more controversial. Not a day goes by that some paper or website doesn’t publish an article regarding mostly unsubstantiated concerns regarding the danger of using e-cigs. Then there’s the looming decision of the FDA, the upcoming EU tobacco directive that includes an e-liquid ban, and lastly the UK Department of Health’s intention to license e-cigarettes.
It’s been three years since the Department of Health started considering a licensing of electronic cigarettes, but it has yet to make a decision on the matter. In 2011, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced it would take another 18 months to gather evidence regarding the potential health risks associated with using this kind of product. The IB Times has recently quoted a spokesman for the MHRA as saying: “We will be in a position to announce further details on how we will do this should the government make the decision to regulate e-cigarettes as medicinal products. This is expected in the spring of this year.” With the deadline fast-approaching, it’s fair to say tension among e-cigarette suppliers and vendors is reaching critical levels.
According the former health minister Simon Burns, the Health Department’s main concern regarding electronic cigarettes is a “great variability in the content, both in the amount of nicotine present and also in relation to other potentially toxic substances” when different devices were tested. That comes as somewhat of a surprise, considering the UK is famous for its stringent control of substances, compared even to the United States. Despite their concerns about potential health risks associated with e-cigarette use, Robert West, Cancer Research UK director at University College London told IB Times he thinks the MHRA is “mindful” that a decision to license electronic cigarettes could wipe out the whole market.
Katherine Devlin, president of the Electronic Cigarette Industry trade Association, said the group she represents would take legal action if the Government decided to proceed with the licensing. “We think we would win, as there are four case precedents in Europe under the same law, ” she added. It’s worth noting that electronic cigarette companies would be legally required to apply for a license only if they planned to market their devices as medicinal “quit smoking” products.
According to the UK Electronic Cigarette Consumer Association, this whole licensing plan is nothing more than an attack on e-cigarettes by the MHRA, an authority “funded partly (or wholly) by the pharmaceutical industry”, and thus not really entitled to issue an objective decision. Furthermore, the e-cig association believes that, based on precedents, such an attack would ultimately fail, as ECITA is now well able to defend against such an attack, and electronic cigarettes has a strong community behind it.