Retailers have given a cautious welcome to the news that the booming electronic cigarette (e-cig) market is to be regulated, but do not agree that they should be classed as medicinal products.

The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced last week that it was to regulate e-cigs as medicines in a bid to eliminate poor grade products and give adults looking to quit smoking greater confidence.

The move, which is not likely to come into force until 2016, would ban from sale all products which did not meet the safety, quality and efficacy requirements of a medicine.

The MHRA believes e-cigs are key to reducing the harms of tobacco smoking, but says that the quality of brands currently for sale in the UK varies dramatically.

However, retailers claim that quitting smoking is not the only reason adults use e-cigs, and that medicines classification does not correctly reflect their usage.

Jai Singh of Singh’s Premier in Sheffield said: “I agree the category should be regulated as there has been a recent explosion of cheap and poor quality products on the market, but not be regulated as medicines.

“Adults smoke them for a variety of reasons, as well as to quit tobacco. They do it to save money, for the flavours, and to smoke indoors. Many of the e-cigs we now sell don’t even contain nicotine, they just have interesting flavours.”

E-Lites founder Adrian Everett also urged the UK government to accept the idea that “nicotine, like caffeine, was a consumer product, not a medicinal one.”

The UK government will now press for EU law to create a Europe-wide legal position on e-cigs as medicines through the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive.

Electronic cigarettes are currently regulated as consumer products in the UK. The retail market was worth about £40m in 2012 in the UK and is expected to exceed £120m by the end of 2013.


“E-cigs are a key product category for us, and as well as margins of more than 40% they create a talking point in store. I agree that e-cigs need to be regulated to protect consumers and retailers, but I’m not sure that medicines regulation is the answer. Regulation could increase the cost of products, and if e-cigs start to be prescribed by doctors, we could lose sales to chemists.”

Bipin Haria

Seaford News, East Sussex

“E-cigs are a key line for us. We sell about £300-worth a week, with new consumers entering the market all the time. We treat the category exactly like tobacco and never sell to under-18s. I agree they should be regulated to ensure that only safe and reliable products are on the market.”

Ralf Patel

The Look-In, Woodmansterne, Surrey