The UK will regulate all nicotine-containing products, including e-cigarettes, as medicines, starting in 2016 (here).
The British bureaucrats justified their decision: “Our research has shown that existing electronic cigarettes and other nicotine containing products on the market are not good enough to meet this public health priority [i.e., “reducing the harms of smoking to smokers and those around them”]… Our investigations also found that the amount of nicotine per product differs from batch to batch so this casts doubt on how useful these products are to people who want to cut down or to stop smoking.”
While the government says it is acting “so that people using these products have the confidence that they are safe, are of the right quality and work,” the need for added regulation is questionable. The government’s own press release confirms the popularity of available e-cigarettes – which could be seen as consumer confidence – noting that “their use has grown rapidly with an estimated 1.3 million people using them in 2013.”
Clive Bates, former director of Action on Smoking and Health UK, strongly criticized the regulators on his blog: “They want to substitute their own view of ‘efficacy’ (what works) for the consumers’ view. Markets work by people buying the good products and the poor products failing, not by regulators deciding what works.”
Bates provides nine other reasons why this decision is a “bad idea”. His must-read blog is available here.
According to the government release, “Smoking is the biggest single cause of avoidable death - killing 80,000 people in England each year.” Regulation of e-cigarettes as medicines is likely to limit or eliminate the availability of these popular and far safer smoking alternatives. Removing them from the marketplace only encourages smokers to continue smoking, making the UK government a culpable enabler of this deadly habit.
E-cigarettes are recreational tobacco products, not medicines. They should be regulated accordingly. The only consolation is that there will be five to ten million British e-cigarette users in 2016, a formidable political force that may not tolerate a regulatory barrier to the continued supply of these life-saving products.