Now that the vaping industry is more than a decade old, it’s had plenty of time to evolve. One of the most interesting things about the industry, though, is that it’s evolved much differently in Europe as compared to the United States. In the US, the government’s attitude toward vaping often feels overwhelmingly negative. That’s largely attributable to the success of the JUUL brand and the fact that the JUUL has become the go-to vice among millions of school-aged children. Some have even suggested that the brand’s success among youth is by design.
Among those buying e cigs in the UK, though, things are completely different. Until recently, the JUUL e-cigarette wasn’t available outside the United States. Perhaps that explains why youth vaping has never taken off in the UK the way it has here. JUUL is available in the UK now, but their days of marketing their product via social media influencers are over. The UK version of the product also isn’t nearly as addictive as the US version – but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Let’s look at the key differences across the Atlantic in this snapshot of UK vaping in 2019.
The UK Health System Supports Vaping
The biggest difference between the US and UK vaping industries is the fact that the UK government actually supports vaping. In the US, anyone marketing vaping products isn’t even allowed to say that e-cigarettes are for quitting smoking. In the UK, the National Health Service encourages smokers to switch to vaping and says that e-cigarettes can help you “quit smoking for good.”
At this stage, it’s probably safe to say that the vaping industry in the UK isn’t going anywhere unless people stop buying the products. Compare that to the regulatory climate in the United States. Companies in the vaping industry here know that they need to apply for pre-market authorization if they want to continue selling their products. Nobody is really certain how to apply for authorization, though. Companies don’t even know for sure when the applications are due. It’s a complete mess. If you live in the US, you’re under the constant threat that the government is going to pull your vape out of your hands.
UK Vaping Regulations Limit E-Liquid Nicotine Strengths
In the UK and Europe, the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) is the legislation that broadly regulates the vaping industry and defines what companies can and can’t do. One of the limitations imposed by the TPD is a maximum nicotine strength of 20 mg for any e-liquid. In the United States, nicotine strengths tended to hover around that same level until the release of the JUUL and its 50 mg nicotine salt e-liquid.
These days, 50 mg nicotine salt e-liquids are everywhere. On one hand, it’s fair to say that those e-liquids are as satisfying as tobacco cigarettes. In that sense, UK vapers who are trying to quit smoking are missing out. On the other hand, though, one might also say that the new high-strength nicotine salt e-liquids are just as addictive as cigarettes. In that sense, maybe a limit on nicotine strengths isn’t so bad.
E-Liquid Bottles and Vape Tanks Are Smaller in the UK
The TPD also limits the maximum capacity of vape tanks (2 ml) and e-liquid bottles containing nicotine (10 ml). The tank size limit is mainly a minor inconvenience since there’s nothing preventing people from buying new glass and converting their tanks to the non-TPD versions.
The bottle size limit is a little more interesting because 10 ml of e-liquid is nothing in the age of the sub-ohm tank. Plenty of people go through more e-liquid than that in a single day. Companies began selling boxes with several small bottles of e-liquid until someone realized that the bottle size limitation only applied to e-liquids with nicotine. The short-fill bottle was born.
A short-fill e-liquid is a large bottle of nicotine-free e-liquid that isn’t completely full. A 60 ml short-fill bottle, for example, will only contain 50 ml of e-liquid. To make the e-liquid usable, you need to buy a 10 ml bottle of e-liquid with nicotine separately. A typical “nic shot” has a nicotine strength of 18 mg. You remove the nozzle from the short-fill bottle, dump in the entire nic shot and close the short-fill bottle before giving it a good shake. Now, you’ve got 60 ml of e-liquid with a nicotine strength of 3 mg – perfect for sub-ohm vaping.
The TPD’s limitations on tank and e-liquid bottle sizes might seem a bit draconian in light of the amount of e-liquid people go through these days. When the TPD was put in place, though, we didn’t have the type of vaping equipment that we have today. These days, a tank like the Freemax Mesh Pro will actually laugh in your face if you only put 2 ml of e-liquid into it. The point of the size limits, though, is that those limits might help to prevent the possibility of deadly nicotine overdose if a child manages to drink a bottle.
You Can Still Launch a New E-Liquid Brand in the UK
The biggest difference between the US and UK vaping industries is that you can still legally launch a new e-liquid brand in the UK. In the United States, every single e-liquid that wasn’t on the market by August 8, 2016 is completely illegal without pre-market authorization – and no vaping company has applied for authorization yet. It’s only a matter of time before the FDA brings down the hammer. In the UK, though, e-liquid innovation is alive and well. Launching a new e-liquid brand does involve a bit of legal compliance, but it’s nothing that an enterprising company can’t handle. In short, new e-liquid brands must:
- Ensure that their products comply with the TPD.
- Submit their products to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
- Put prominent nicotine warnings on their product labels.
- Wait about six months for their products to appear on the official MHRA list.
Vaping Is Alive and Well in the UK
We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at vaping in the UK in 2019. Although the TPD might cause a few headaches for those who vape, at least the British vaping industry has a clear regulatory direction – and it’s not going away any time soon. It’s too bad that American vapers can’t say the same.