New EU rules on nicotine strength not a problem for most vapers

16 May 2016.  Use of electronic cigarettes continues to rise with 2.8 million current e-cigarette users in 2016, up from only 700,000 in 2012 when it was first measured by ASH. [1] And new EU rules on electronic cigarettes [2] need not cause problems for most vapers according to new research published by ASH today. [3]

Concerns raised in Parliament [4] about the EU rules are not borne out by the ASH Smokefree GB Adult Survey. Only 9% of vapers report using e-liquid containing 19mg/ml or more of nicotine (the limit set by the EU Tobacco Products Directive is 20mg/ml). And only 11% of daily vapers use more than 4ml of liquid (the EU limit for tanks and cartridges is 2ml), indicating that only a small proportion of them are likely to need to refill their device more than twice a day. [3] The minority of vapers using higher strengths and higher volumes of e-liquid will continue to be able to buy these until 20th May 2017, leaving time for products to evolve to meet their needs.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH said:

“The new ASH research shows that most vapers use less nicotine than the limit set in the new EU regulations and are likely to have to refill their devices no more than a couple of times a day. Concerns that the EU regulations would force the products most vapers use off the market seem to have been overstated.”

However, while over 60% of smokers say they’ve tried vaping, less than one in five are currently using e-cigarettes. And among smokers who have still never tried vaping the most common reason cited is concern that they are not safe enough. In 2016 47% of current vapers think vaping is a lot less harmful than smoking regular cigarettes, compared to only 12% of smokers who’ve never tried vaping. Misperceptions about the relative risk of vaping and smoking are growing, not declining. In March 2016 only 15% of adults thought e-cigarettes were a lot less harmful than smoking regular cigarettes, down from 21% in 2013. In contrast the proportion of adults thinking e-cigarettes were equally or more harmful than cigarettes had risen from 7% in 2013 to 25% in 2016. [3]

Deborah Arnott went on to say:

“Any smoker who has been put off vaping by concerns about safety should be re-assured that the new EU regulations will help improve the quality and reliability of electronic cigarettes. Smokers need to understand that if they can’t quit altogether, by switching to vaping they can improve both their quality and length of life.”

The recently published Royal College of Physicians (RCP) report on electronic cigarettes supported the EU Tobacco Products Directive requirement to report nicotine delivery and toxins in e-cigarette vapour. The RCP recommended monitoring the impact of the Directive to check whether measures such as the 20mg/ml limit on nicotine concentration cause problems for vapers and that regulations should be revised if any problems arise. [5]

There has been no increase in regular vaping amongst never smokers since 2013 with only 0.2% of never smokers saying they’re vaping.

Nearly half of all vapers are now ex-smokers while two years ago the proportion was only a third, with two thirds continuing to smoke. This is important because only by switching completely do vapers significantly reduce their risks of developing smoking-related diseases. Nearly two thirds of ex-smokers who use e-cigarettes have been vaping for over a year, while more than half of current smokers who also use e-cigarettes (known as ‘dual users’) have been doing so for less than a year.

The main reason given by ex-smokers who are currently vaping is to help them stop smoking, while for current smokers the main reason is to reduce the amount they smoke, although smokers also say they vape to help them quit smoking. Saving money is now one of the top three reasons vapers give for using e-cigarettes.

Dr Leonie Brose, Lecturer in Addictions at King’s College London said:

“This survey provides further confirmation that regular use of electronic cigarettes is almost without exception confined to smokers and ex-smokers. It is encouraging that among those who have never smoked, we continue to see very little experimentation and no change in the extremely low levels of current use. The proportion of never smokers who vape is the same as those who use nicotine replacement therapy.”

Notes and Links:

[1] Calculations are by ASH and King’s College London. We applied the proportions of e-cigarette use by smoking status in the 2016 YouGov survey to the most recent available ONS mid-year GB population estimates (2014).

[2] ASH briefing on the impact of the EU Tobacco Products Directive on e-cigarette regulation in the UK. (April 2016). Products containing over 20 mg/ml of nicotine in the e-liquid and tanks and cartridges containing more than 2ml can remain on sale until 20th May 2017.

[3] All data are taken from the ASH fact sheet unless otherwise specified: Use of electronic cigarettes (vapourisers) among adults in Great Britain.

Total sample size was 12,157. Fieldwork was undertaken between 2nd March and 23rd March 2016. All surveys were carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB Adults (aged 18+).
[4] Prime Minister’s Questions 11 May 2016
House of Commons, Hansard, Vol 609, 11 May 2016
Anne Main MP (Conservative MP)
“Yesterday Lord Prior spoke up for vaping as a way of getting off cigarettes; so has the Royal College of Physicians. Why are we bringing in the Brussels diktat that says that we must include vaping in the tobacco directive?”
Prime Minister – Rt Hon David Cameron MP
“I am happy to look at this issue closely. It is necessary to differentiate between smoking and vaping, because they have very different health effects. I actually think that that is what is being achieved, but I will look into this carefully and will write to my hon. Friend.” Tobacco and Related Products Regulations House of Lords, Hansard, Vol 771 10th May 2017
[5] Nicotine without smoke – Tobacco harm reduction A report of the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians. London, RCP, 2016