Japan Tobacco International (JTI) held a parliamentary reception supported by North Tyneside Labour MP Mary Glindon earlier this month to campaign for stricter rules on vapes. The firm wants the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations (TRPR) 2016 to be amended to ensure vapes do not appeal to minors and to address illegal and non-compliant products.
Glindon explained that she was in favour of vapes being used as an alternative to smoking but claimed that not enough was being done to stop the illicit trade.
She said: “Unlike other countries where governments have passed regulations to stymie the growth of vaping, the UK government has largely got it right when it comes to recognising vaping as an alternative to smoking. They have, however, failed to keep up with smugglers and criminals that seek to capitalise on its popularity.
“It’s time the government got serious and recognised the scale of the problem. Stronger enforcement is needed to support the regulatory changes needed to address youth appeal.”
JTI wants the current TRPR changed so that all e-cigarettes and e-liquids are treated in the same way and do not appeal to minors, by prohibiting imagery, flavour names and descriptors, environments or objects that are “typical of the world of children and youth”.
It is pushing for e-cigarette packaging to be inspected as part of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency’s notification process before a product can be placed on the market.
Preventing youth access
At the reception JTI showcased a number of vapes designed to appeal to children, including those that illegally imitated well-known confectionery brands.
Communications manager Louise Harris highlighted the brightly coloured vapes carrying fake Skittles- and Nerds-style brands, and even a vape which also acted as a fidget spinner toy. “It’s remarkably irresponsible,” she said. “Youth access prevention is vital.”
She highlighted the recent “astronomic” growth of disposable vapes. “70% of disposable vape sales are from new vape users, closed tanks and open tanks are in decline, while disposable vapes have seen a 380% increase over the course of the year,” she said.
“The consumers are coming from somewhere and we can tell from the data that they’re people who previously wouldn’t have consumed nicotine. What we don’t want is to attract new people who would never have consumed nicotine into that category.”
Further research needed
Nicky Small, corporate affairs & communications director UK, JTI, stated that the government urgently needed to carry out further research on youth vaping.
She said: “The government is on the right track because they’ve launched a consultation on vaping, which is really important, but we’ve still got the call for evidence which precedes it. That’s great and we really welcome it and they do need to collect evidence, but we need quick action because this is a huge problem. They need to commission more evidence [on the uptake of youth vaping] to get more support [to tackle it].”
JTI also believes law enforcement mechanisms should also be reinforced with fines and penalties reflecting the seriousness of the offences. This could be achieved by aligning fines with tobacco products, suggests the company. HM Revenue & Customers have recently been given the ability to issue on-the-spot fines of up to £10,000, which JTI is adamant should be extended to Trading Standards (TS).
The company has always carried out test purchasing for illegal tobacco products, but last year it added in vapes too. Many of those caught selling illicit tobacco had since gone on to trade in illicit vapes.
Howell said that most retailers selling non-compliant vapes were fully aware that what they were doing was illegal. “I think in almost every case no one can claim they don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.
He explained that being caught selling illicit vapes does not automatically lead to being prosecuted. “In a lot of cases you end up with the retailer getting a warning. After that they might get their premises licence revoked or suspended, and perhaps after that they will face a fine through a prosecution in Court.”
JTI is of the opinion that a warning is ineffective, and that many irresponsible retailers simply continue to trade in illegal vapes and tobacco.
“There was a case reported in Barking earlier this month where a retailer had three seizures in March, September and November of last year,” said Howell. “It was only after the third offence that there was a prosecution, which is frustrating, and why we’ve been calling for an extension of fines.
“Because rest assured - while the retailer was caught in March, September and November, it’s unlikely they stopped [trading illicit goods] between March and November.”
Last year in the Finance Act, the government pledged that TS would have the power to give out fines that could be levied ‘on the spot’ against retailers who sell illegal tobacco.
However, JTI claims that draft regulations have weakened this proposal, stating that TS may simply pass an investigation on to HMRC. “They’ve rolled back from their promise to do something really positive,” said Howell. “This is an instance where they could be hitting retailers hard for committing crime.”
He claimed that the Vaping Task Force alone was not enough to deter irresponsible retailers. “The government have said they’re going to have their Task Force and £3m of funding, which sounds pretty good, but if you think there are hundreds of local authorities, that might only pay for one operation in each. We know from what we’ve seen on tobacco is that they [retailers] get raided, the product gets seized and then they [retailers] simply go back and start selling it.”
He added: “The illegal sale of tobacco, alcohol and now vapes is everywhere now and it’s difficult to put the genie back in the bottle. Consumers now expect to be able to find it which is fuelling the problem as they look to save money.”
Small claimed that consumers in search of illegal vapes didn’t have to look hard because irresponsible retailers brazenly display the items.
“With illegal tobacco it’s all hidden under the counter and it’s all covert purchases,” she said. “With illegal vapes they’re just out on show. It’s exploded so quickly on the market that TS don’t have any resource to be able to effectively manage it.”
Category under threat
She warned that unless more was done, the future of the vaping category was under threat. “It is an important category for existing adult smokers, but it won’t be credible and there will be a knee jerk reaction if it’s not regulated properly,” she stated.
Harris observed that such a move would come as a huge blow to the convenience channel. “What’s really interesting from a trade perspective is just how much the trade are adopting vaping as an income stream,” she said. “Some of the increments they’re making to their stores are significant. Should you get this knee jerk reaction piece of legislation that bans disposables, then what happens to retailers that have remodelled their businesses on vaping? Who knows.”
Glindon concluded: “Vaping offers us a tremendous opportunity to be a world leader in encouraging people to move from tobacco to less harmful alternatives. Let’s ensure that we don’t blow it by ignoring the very real dangers posed by counterfeit and illegal products.”