Inconsistent regulators risk stifling our thriving vaping industry

Independent vaping companies, free from ownership or control by the tobacco or pharmaceutical industries, make up 90 per cent of what is one of the fastest growing industries in Britain.

UK vaping businesses are known globally for their innovation and product stewardship, and locally, independent vape shops are one of the few areas of positive growth on our high streets.

The number of vapers in Britain has risen from virtually zero in 2008 to 2.9m in 2017. In 2013, vaping overtook nicotine replacement therapy products as the most popular tool for helping smokers quit – a fact recognised by Public Health England.

Read more: The case for tobacco packaging restrictions goes up in smoke

As vaping has increased in popularity, the smoking rate has continued to decline. The UK now has the second lowest smoking rates in the EU.

And yet the local vape shops delivering this valuable service are still facing an uphill battle.

Most immediately, the lack of enforcement following the implementation of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulation 2016 (TRPR) is cause for alarm – on average members of the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) have seen a 24 per cent reduction in business since the regulations were fully implemented in May 2017, forcing some businesses to close.

While we are not happy with the current set of arbitrary restrictions placed on the UKs vape industry, the IBVTA is not anti-regulation, and has worked proactively to ensure that members comply with the relevant regulations.

To ensure that compliance did not turn into a competitive disadvantage, it was vital that these new regulations were enforced from day one.

But lax attitudes from some enforcement bodies has made the negative impact of these regulations worse.

To gain a better picture of the state of compliance and enforcement across the country, we sent Freedom of Information requests to all local authorities in the UK with a Trading Standards authority.

The results are concerning.

The overall picture is mixed. In some parts of the country, authorities are doing their job and we acknowledge that – but in far too many areas they are not.

Nearly 40 per cent of local authorities have carried out no investigations into vaping non-compliance. Nationally, Trading Standards have only actioned just over half of the reports they have received of non-compliance.

This is unacceptable. If basic action was too much to expect given the well-documented resource issues local authorities are facing, legislators should not have placed this responsibility on Trading Standards.

We also need action on online giants such as Ebay and Amazon, where – as we hear regularly from our members – non-compliance flourishes and policing is minimal.

Poorly written regulation is not just harming our businesses – it is also having an effect on consumer confidence.

According to Public Health England, vaping is as at least 95 per cent safer than smoking, yet research by Action on Smoking and Health shows that this message isnt getting through – 25 per cent of adults still believe vaping is just as or more harmful.

Our report, “The State of Compliance – One year on from the TRPR”, which launched in parliament this week, should serve as a wake-up call.

We must review the inclusion of vaping in the TRPR at the earliest possible opportunity, and introduce proportionate, risk-based, vape-specific legislation which allows as many smokers as possible switch away from smoking. Post-Brexit, we have an opportunity to get this right, free from anti-vaping voices from the EU, and lead the way in regulation of this flourishing industry.

The consumer-led insurgency of vaping has seen in excess of 1.6m people stop smoking completely, at no cost to the taxpayer. Now the independent vaping industry needs the support of its regulators and politicians to allow vaping to reach its full potential.

Read more: DEBATE: Is Britain missing out by not having a legal cannabis market?

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