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How Has Vaping Changed In the UK Following May 20th and TPD Enforcement?

June 09, 2017

How Has Vaping Changed In the UK Following May 20th and TPD Enforcement?

May 20th, 2017 is a day that will stay in the collective memory of UK vapers, although it will not be remembered fondly. It is the day when the new Tobacco Product Directive (TPD) became an enforceable law in the United Kingdom. There has been a lot of talk about the TPD leading up to that date but let’s cover the basics again.


Tobacco Product Directive is a piece of EU legislation that was drawn up in 2014 to replace the outdated legislation from 2001. EU member states decided that it was time to toughen their stance on analog cigarettes but, also, to put e-cigarettes under the umbrella of tobacco-related products. TPD was introduced in the UK in 2016 and the transition period lasted for full 12 months, right up to May, 20th.


Interestingly, TPD was originally designed to take a much tougher look at analog cigarettes. However, the period during which the legislation was written corresponds to increased spending by the tobacco industry on lobbying. Things like plain packaging for cigarettes went out of the window thanks to the increased pressure from Philip Morris and other tobacco companies.


On the other hand, vaping-related TPD provisions were toughened and threaten the industry’s survival. A lot of vapers, vape shop owners, and vape gear manufacturers are concerned that TPD will force smaller businesses to close their doors. Others note that parts of the industry will be pushed underground and that users will be forced to purchase untested gear and e-liquids because they won’t have a legal way of obtaining them in the UK.


One thing is certain - now that TPD is in full effect in the UK, vapers on the islands have a lot fewer choices.


What Did TPD Change When It Comes to Vaping?

It changed quite a lot, actually.

However, there’s a handful of changes that will truly impact both businesses and vapers.


  • Maximum nicotine strength of an e-liquid cannot exceed 20 mg.
  • E-liquid bottles mustn't be bigger than 10 ml.
  • Open tank systems can’t be larger than 2 ml.
  • All e-liquids have to be tested for emissions - a process that can cost up to $3,500 per e-liquid, and nicotine variations need to be tested separately.
  • Manufacturers required to notify the Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) before releasing new products (6 months in advance). Steep fees need to be paid per product.
  • Advertisement restrictions, new bottle design, labeling, and packaging requirements - all of which will increase the cost of production and prices of e-liquids.

Luckily, e-liquids which do not contain nicotine are not affected by the TPD and can be sold without restrictions. If that wasn’t the case, a lot more businesses would sink under these burdensome new rules.


How Are UK Vapers Reacting? 

It would be an understatement to say that UK vapers are slightly...well, miffed, really. The debate on the new regulation has been going on for close to two years now and those who saw it coming started to prepare. Reddit’s UK vaping threads are on fire, with people asking about DIY approaches to e-liquids.


Those who are well-versed in DIYing stocked up and there are even those who purchased close to three liters of highly concentrated nicotine base, which, they hope, will last them for several years.


Most vapers say that the biggest problem with the regulation is the fact that it balloons up an average vaper’s kit. Since the tank capacity is now limited, they are required to carry around more e-liquid with them. Of course, the bottles can’t be bigger than 10 ml, so this means that they quite literally have to carry several around with them and the only way they can do that is in a fanny pack or a backpack - try fitting several e-liquid bottles, MOD, spare batteries, and a tank in your pocket and you will see why. In comparison, smoking remains a lot easier - you simply take a cigarette out of the carton, light it, and you’re good to go.


Although experienced vapers are affected by TPD, the real losers are dual users and those trying to quit smoking with the help of e-cigarettes. Dual users and people who are ‘transitioning’ to vaping generally require an e-liquid with a higher nicotine concentration because lower doses can’t satisfy their craving. As of May 20th, those e-liquids are virtually rendered illegal. We’re talking about close to 200,000 people in the UK who will be forced to either spend more on vape juice in order to get the same nicotine hit, or revert back to smoking. That’s currently - only time will tell how many current smokers won’t even try to quit using e-cigs thanks to this TPD provision.


Well, isn’t that really convenient for the tobacco industry?


If you think we’re over-reacting, here’s what Rhydian Mann (Swansea), an ex-smoker turned vaper, has to say about it: “If I didn’t have access to 2.4% and 3.6% nicotine liquid I wouldn’t have been able to do so. I still use those concentrations during times of stress. Under TPD, the easiest option to get my nicotine fix will be a cigarette and I will certainly take that avenue if needs be”.


What Are Vape Manufacturers and Vape Retailers Doing?

Well, they are complying because they have no other option. However, TPD will make a serious dent in how many choices there are on the UK market. Small vape juice manufacturers are already boarding up their windows because their sales can’t justify the cost of staying in business. Even larger manufacturers are axing some juices in order to reduce their costs.


Vape gear manufacturers are struggling to come up with tanks that are TPD-compliant but still attractive to vapers. One such tank is the Aspire Cleito EXO - a 2 ml tank that becomes 3.5 ml with a simple coil swap.


Overall, TPD has caused a real upheaval in the industry. Retailers were getting rid of stock leading up to May 19th, offering deep discounts on everything that’s not TPD compliant. Right now, they are offering 30 and 60 ml nicotine-free e-liquids and nicotine top-ups that end users need to mix themselves in order to get the desired nicotine level.


What Is the Future of Vaping in the UK Under New TPD Rules?

Well, for one thing, vaping will become even more complicated than it is now. There’s a very steep learning curve with vaping, especially when transitioning from a beginner vaper to the intermediate level (including MODs, RBAs, DIY vape juices, and things like that). Vapers are going to have to haul around a lot more bottles and the whole process of refilling smaller tanks will become even more frequent.


TPD will make it difficult for current smokers to switch to vaping because of the restriction on maximum nicotine strength in e-liquids. More people will be left out in the cold - current smokers won’t even attempt vaping and dual users are likely to make a U-turn and choose cigarettes once again.


The bottom line is that this is a regulation designed specifically to hurt vaping. There are some good parts to it - no one should object to emissions testing because users have a right to know what they are inhaling. However, good provisions are drowned in a badly designed law full of nonsensical demands.


Why 10 ml vape juice bottles? Why not 5 ml or 20 ml? What’s the use of additional warnings that require more packaging - is it OK to pollute the planet even more with smaller bottles, plastic wraps, and excessive cardboard boxes? Not really.


So, will vaping in the UK survive TPD?

Of course it will. Vapers will adapt. Prepared shop owners and manufacturers (although saddled with an unnecessary financial burden) will adapt.


But will vaping ever again be the same?

Not really. TPD favors the tobacco industry (as ludicrous as that sounds for something called Tobacco Product Directive) and their new ‘heat-not-burn’ products, which will be a lot more accessible, although more expensive.


In the end, TPD will end up claiming actual victims - smokers who are prevented from substituting their habit with something that’s far less harmful and the UK will no longer be a great example of how vaping can turn the tide and give people a real chance at life.