Regulating vape products – which contain no tobacco – with a tobacco-like regulatory framework is ill fitting considering the differences in the risks to users, and the fact that vaping is used as a safer alternative to smoking.
Despite our view that they are not fully fit for purpose, the new regulations on vape products within the EU Tobacco Products Directive, transposed into Irish law (S.I. 271 of 2016), now place restrictions on vape products and the manufacturers, distributors and retailers operating in the market, and our members have to abide by them.
More smokers switching to vaping represents an opportunity to add to the reduction in the rates of smoking, in a landscape where Ireland has set a target of a prevalence of less that 5% by the year 2025.
However, consumers and the wider public should be confident that the products they see for sale are being sold in Ireland legally, have gone through the necessary testing and reporting requirements, and that regulations are being adequately enforced.
Today we have written to the Environmental Health Service Tobacco Control Operational Unit, the Department of Health, and Members of the Oireachtas to outline our concerns.
IVVA members have spent considerable amounts of time and money to become compliant within the deadlines. Regrettably, this has had to come about despite delays with clarification and engagement from the HSE and Department of Health.
On some technical aspects, we are still waiting for what is required within the statutory instrument; the publication of the list of products that can be legally sold here, and the list of retailers that have registered for cross border sales, by the HSE.
This lack of clarity on a common understanding of the regulations, alongside the opinion held by some that there will be little or no enforcement, has caused many suppliers and businesses to unknowingly or willfully ignore their legal responsibilities.
These are complex regulations, in which there are contradictory elements, some of which will be practically unenforceable. Others, such as the advertising and promotion restrictions, will be very difficult to enforce as the regulations are open to numerous interpretations. However, some elements are clearer.
It is now an offence to sell liquid refills containing nicotine in bottles larger than 10ml, a tank that is over 2ml in volume, and all products covered by the regulations must have been notified to the HSE 6 months in advance and carry the correct labels.
During the allowed sell through period, our members have been clearing old stock at cost or loss levels, sourcing new suppliers, investing in testing and notification of products, redesigning packaging & labeling, and as per the deadline of May 20th, removed any remaining non compliant products from the market, and they have absorbed the considerable costs involved.
We were advised in writing by the HSE National Tobacco Control Office on the 2nd of May that:
‘‘Staff members are trained in all aspects of the legislation relevant to an inspection. Standardised protocols and inspection records are also developed and followed by the Environmental Health Service”
However, we have reasonable grounds to believe that all not all staff have received this training. Since there are shops all over the country still selling non compliant products since the deadline of May 20th passed, this is concerning.
Since the publication of this EU Directive in 2014, it has been clear that flaws and contradictions in the regulations mean independent Irish businesses will lose customers to the huge black and grey market that will inevitably emerge. IVVA members will have to work against that backdrop, and the presence of the tobacco industry now operating in this market.
However, we hope that the government and the HSE recognise the value of the independent vape industry and work with the IVVA to get regulation and enforcement right – for the sake of consumer safety as well as for the longevity of independent businesses.
We are confident that despite these burdensome and ill-fitting regulations, Ireland can at least in part realise the public health gains that a reduction in smoking would bring if compliant independent companies can operate and compete in a fair marketplace.
As a responsible trade association for the independent companies in this industry, we trust the Environmental Health Service Tobacco Control Operational Unit is engaging with local enforcement offices and this lack of compliance is addressed.