Vaping – How Do Governments Respond?
The English Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2014 is ‘Vape’. The popularity of the word mirrors the increasing use of e-cigarettes over the last two years and represents a complex problem for many governments. The use of the word has increased by 30 times in the last two years alone.
Firstly, what does it mean, to vape? According to the Oxford Dictionary it means ‘to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device’. Basically it involves someone sucking on a personal nicotine vaporiser. The device, using a battery, heats up a liquid which usually contains nicotine and other materials like flavours and glycol. The user then inhales this vapour (which is not smoke) and then exhales.
Pros and Cons
Proponents claim that tests show the device has advantages over normal cigarettes, including helping users quit cigarettes and cigars. There is also no active or passive smoking since there is no smoke, only vapour. Some users simply like vaping as a form of relaxation in itself, and they don’t smoke cigarettes.
However, the devices invariably still contain nicotine which, in its liquid form, is more dangerous than tobacco leaves, and the whole industry is largely unregulated. With numerous suppliers there is no industry-wide regulation of the ingredients in the liquid.
The American FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has expressed interest in regulating e-cigarettes but as yet no action has been confirmed. There are bans on the use of e-cigarettes in public places in numerous American states but the position is patchy. Perhaps nowhere best exemplifies the mixed approaches by governments than by taking two major Western cities, London and New York.
In New York there is a current debate aimed at banning flavoured e-cigarettes for sale apart from specified outlets. This is in addition to the general ban on e-cigarettes in public places which came into effect in April 2014. E-cigarettes are now treated exactly the same as normal cigarettes, and so users are prohibited from vaping in bars, restaurants, beaches and so on.
The ban drew protests from various groups but has remained in force, with fines for those caught vaping in public. In London the situation is rather different.
Normal cigarettes were banned from being used in public places in 2007, but at about the same time as the e-cigarette ban was coming into place in New York last year, the first ‘vape café’ opened in London.
The Vape Lab in trendy Shoreditch opened in April 2014. This has led to a situation which is being dictated by individuals and companies rather than by government. Restaurants have mixed policies dependent on the owners – some allow vaping, others do not, while all ban normal cigarettes which have been illegal for use in public places since 2007.
The latest development is a ban on e-cigarettes being extended on the public transport network. E-cigarettes, which were already banned on the Underground system, are now banned on the entire Transport for London network, which includes the Underground, buses and trains. The ban was extended in August 2014 but there was no public announcement, possibly to minimise any opposition to the changes.
It should be noted that the ban was in part based on claims of public safety, in an industry understandably concerned by fire risk, yet e-cigarettes do not seem to constitute a fire risk any more than, say, a smartphone.
Around The World
Elsewhere in the world, government reactions have been similarly mixed. France is bringing restrictions on e-cigarettes, but not Germany. South Korea taxes them, while Australia mostly treats them as nicotine devices which makes them illegal in some states. Several countries, like Sweden and Switzerland, permit vaping, but the sale of the cartridges and liquids is illegal. Most of the Middle East, from Israel to Oman, bans their use, yet China, where the e-cigarette was invented and where much of the manufacture takes place, has a patchy response, with bans in some areas but not others. (It must be stated that the situation regarding e-cigarettes is constantly changing and local laws should be checked for updates.)
Vaping Is Big Business
E-cigarettes are big business. Estimates vary wildly, but Euromonitor estimated the market in 2013 at $2.5 billion and Wells Fargo’s research shows it will be worth $10 billion by 2017. Wells Fargo also claims that e-cigarette sales will overtake traditional cigarette sales within a decade.
While some of the major cigarette manufacturers were slow to get into the market, they are taking over market share now. Companies like Phillip Morris International and British American Tobacco became heavily involved in 2014. They are taking over some of the smaller companies who were first in, and future legislation is likely to strengthen their position as they have the resources to deal with tighter rules and regulations.
The Future Of Vapour
So far, governments have responded in haphazard ways, with legislation way behind the legislation for tobacco cigarettes. Research is still maturing on whether e-cigarettes do help people stop smoking or whether they are simply another form of nicotine delivery. The arrival in the e-cigarette market of Big Tobacco perhaps lends some weight to the view that this is not a harmless alternative to smoking cigarettes but another part of the same market, but more research needs to be done.
What is definitely happening is that e-cigarettes are appealing to the young on both sides of the Atlantic. They promise to be healthier, they’re cheaper and they can come in various flavours, including candy. This could be a problem for health services around the world, at a time when, generally, youngsters have turned away from cigarettes. And of course vaping is visually very similar to smoking.
Governments reacted to the cigarette industry with a combination of taxation and banning. So far some have done one, some have done the other as a reaction to the e-cigarette industry. This raises the question of what do you tax – the device, the liquid or whatever, bearing in mind that refills form part of the user experience.
But as vaping becomes more popular, not just as a word, but as an activity, it remains to be seen if there will be a unified, global response based on evolving research. It seems likely that more countries will follow America in banning vaping in all public places and that taxation of will follow, but the situation remains cloudy.