On Thursday 8th June, voters across the UK go to the polls to cast their votes in the General Election. Arguably, this will be the most significant election in the lifetime of most voters. Whoever becomes the Prime Minister on 9th June will be responsible for negotiating the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union and then for reshaping the UK’s place in the world. This will involve significant changes in domestic policy and a new approach to the UK’s engagement on the international stage. No matter how people voted in the EU referendum or how people intend to vote in the General Election, we should all want the next government to make a success of Brexit.
Against this backdrop, is vaping likely to feature high on the priorities of any of the political parties at this election? Probably not. However, it should.
Whoever forms the next government will want to do several things: save money where possible, improve public health, and increase exports and economic growth. In all these areas vaping could play a role.
The importance of the UK vaping industry
Across the UK there are nine million people who smoke, and as Professor John Briton pointed out, “at the moment, our regulatory system continues to encourage them to use the most dangerous product (tobacco) to feed that (nicotine) addiction.”
Each and every year 114,000 people die from smoking related illnesses and billions of pounds are spent treating associated illnesses and on trying to get smokers to quit through the use of NRT. On this last point, we know that much of this money is wasted due to the ineffective nature of most NRT products.
Vaping, by contrast, represents a market-based, user driven, public health insurgency. No taxpayers’ money has been spent, yet smokers are quitting, switching, and cutting down through the use of vape products. We now know that out of the estimated 2.9 million vapers in the UK, over half of them, 1.5 million, have completely stopped smoking. This should be a cause for celebration.
There is a thriving independent vape industry in the UK providing these consumers with a wide range of quality vape products. According to one recent study, vaping is now the fastest growing industry in the UK and after the United States the UK is the second largest market for vape products in the world. At a local level, vape shops are one of the few areas of growth on our high streets.
The UK’s independent vape industry has a global reputation for quality and innovation. Combine this with the enlightened approach many in the public health field have taken towards vaping, and the positive attitudes within PHE, the MHRA, and the Department of Health, then the UK really does have the potential to become a global leader in vaping; both in terms of shaping the global policy environment, and also generating exports and boosting the UK economy.
This tremendous opportunity will only be realised if the regulatory and fiscal environment in which our industry operates is proportionate. At present our industry faces a number of immediate challenges, most notably dealing with the TRPR. Whilst the UK has taken a broadly enlightened approach to implementation, officials are constrained by the rules that the TPD sets down. These rules make it harder for smokers to switch to vaping, have sent some vapers back to smoking, reduced innovation and export markets, and have significantly increased costs. However, in 2019, the UK will leave the European Union and this provides two opportunities:
1. The UK will regain its seat on the World Health Organisation and will therefore be free to influence the global agenda on vaping.
2. The Government will be free to set its own regulatory regime for vaping and vape products.
As a responsible business, we are not anti-regulation, on the contrary. We want to work with government to deliver robust, proportionate, and fit for purpose regulation.
If the next government takes advantage of the opportunities available, and works with the responsible independent vape industry, then the true potential of vaping could be realised.
where do the parties stand when it comes to vaping?
When it comes to the Conservative and Labour Parties in Westminster, it is fair to say that both have been on a journey as far as vaping is concerned. From an initial position of hostility to one that is broadly supportive. Ministers and Shadow Ministers now routinely speak favourably about vaping whenever the issue is debated. We know from experience, that given the freedom to draft their own vaping regulations, the last government would have produced something far more acceptable than the regulations we have, and in all likelihood, they would have been supported in such an endeavour by the Labour opposition.
It is likely that either the Labour or the Conservatives will form the next government, so this bodes well for a post Brexit environment when the government would indeed have the freedom to draft their own vaping regulations.
The Liberal Democrat Party has always taken a broadly positive stance on the subject of vaping and we see no reason why this should change in the next parliament. If they increase their representation in parliament as many commentators expect, then that will only add to the number of MPs likely to support a more proportionate approach to the regulation of vape products.
What of the Greens and UKIP?
UKIP have supported vaping from the off, in fact they have been by far the most supportive party when it comes to vapers and the vape industry. However, following the EU referendum, their influence, particularly in Westminster, has been on the wane. As for the Greens, well they have been relatively quiet when it comes to vaping. It is clearly not a priority issue for them. In the last parliament, they had one MP and unlike UKIP, their influence would appear to be increasing slowly.
What about Scotland and Wales?
As a result of devolution, the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament have limited scope to introduce a slightly different regulatory regime when it comes to vaping. Recently we have seen the Welsh Government trying, and failing, to ban vaping in enclosed public spaces. In our fight against that particular proposal, we were supported by Plaid Cymru who admirably listened to the evidence and responded accordingly. In Scotland, there have also been attempts to introduce stricter regulations for the advertising of vape products, but it would appear that things may be moving in a more favourable direction as ministers and officials take on board the evidence.
The nationalist parties have always taken a more cautious approach to vaping. However, recent evidence would suggest that when presented with credible independent evidence they are willing to adopt a supportive stance.
In closing, much has been achieved in recent years, but there is still much more to do, particularly when it comes to Brexit and how we ensure that delivers the best outcome for our industry and the vapers who rely on us. There are on average 4,462 vapers per Westminster parliamentary constituency, so go out there and make your voices heard. Speak to candidates from all mainstream political parties. Explain to them the importance of vaping and then go out and vote on 8th June. On 9th June, the hard work begins!