This week the European Union announced pretty harsh regulations for electronic cigarettes. The worst of the new regs require graphic warnings similar to those of tobacco cigarettes, near universal advertising bans, nicotine concentration limits, and child proof packaging.
Much of the e-cig community already believe these regulations to be wildly inappropriate (and they’re probably right). Many experts believe that electronic cigarettes may actually cause no long-term health effects, so forcing graphic warnings to be on packaging is misleading to consumers. This is just one of a variety of counter-points to harsh regulation of electronic cigarettes.
But to focus in on one particular issue, we’re looking at the regulation of nicotine content in electronic cigarettes. The new EU regulations put a limit on nicotine concentration in e-cigs of 20 milligrams per milliliter. They justify this because that’s “similar to ordinary cigarettes.” But there’s plenty wrong with this argument.
Here’s the main issues with targeting nicotine when regulating electronic cigarettes.
Nicotine in traditional cigarettes is believed to be more potent, more addictive, and more quickly introduced to the bloodstream. The additives and smoke which assist in delivery of nicotine to the blood system in conventional cigarettes have been perfected over decade. In short, 20 milligrams of nicotine in an e-cig isn’t going to be nearly as effective or harmful as 20 milligrams of nicotine from tobacco cigarettes.
Nicotine is not the primary harm component of smoking. Nicotine may be the part that’s addictive, but it’s the smoke that kills. While cigarettes are regulated for the damage done primarily by the smoke they deliver, there is not appropriate research into the harm of nicotine from e-cigs to create appropriate regulations. Any rules about nicotine content would be purely arbitrary (as the 20 milligrams limit is).
Basing rules on nicotine concentrations creates problems for zero-nicotine e-cigs. If regulations act as if the harm from e-cigs comes exclusively from nicotine, then the market of solely zero-nicotine e-cigs becomes a problem. First, like all products, nothing should exist in a regulatory void — no-nic e-cigs included. At the same time, if no-nic e-cigs are forced to adhere to nicotine-focused rules (like extensive health warnings), then an essentially harmless product is forced to act as if they are far worse than they are. This will create problems if there is ever to be a flavor vapor market having nothing to do with nicotine.
The EU’s regulations on electronic cigarettes are set to go into effect in 2016.