From 2016, e-cigarettes will no longer be freely available in the UK. Instead, they will be classified as a medicine and will only be available via prescription from the NHS. The move comes in conjunction with new EU tobacco laws that will come into force at the same time.
E-cigarettes, also known as personal vaporizers (PV), are visually similar to a regular cigarette. However, the battery-operated electronic version does not contain any tobacco. Instead, when “lit” or sucked on, liquid nicotine inside the e-cigarette is vaporized, and then inhaled by the smoker. Most e-cigarettes are reusable, with replaceable cartridges.
Manufacturers claim that e-cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking. However, the Mayo Clinic reports that studies by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have revealed that not all e-cigarettes are created equal. E-cigarettes from different manufacturers have been found to have varying levels and purity of nicotine; some have even been found to contain carcinogenic toxic chemicals, prompting the FDA to issue a health warning for e-cigarettes.
It is this difference in quality that has prompted the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to require that e-cigarettes be licensed. From 2016, manufacturers must have their products submitted to stringent quality tests before they are approved as medicines. Further, the new law will ensure that e-cigarettes will not be promoted to non-smokers and children. Meanwhile, the MHRA is not recommending the products for use as the safety and quality is not assured. Instead, smokers are encouraged to turn to other types of nicotine replacement therapy, including nicotine patches and nicotine gum to help them quit smoking.
The UK is not the first country to make this decision. According to the BBC, New Zealand already regulates e-cigarettes as medicine. Denmark, Canada and Australia have placed restrictions on the sale, import and marketing of e-cigarettes while Singapore, Brazil and Norway have banned the product outright.
The move has come under fire by the e-cigarette manufacturers, with Adrian Everett, CEO of E-Lites telling the BBC that “not one person globally has been killed by an electronic cigarette. To remove or restrict the use or availability of the electronic cigarette from this market would be a significant health loss.”
According to the Guardian, the e-cigarette industry in the UK is expected to be worth 250 million Pounds by next year, with the product being used by an estimated 1.3 million people.