Train delays and problematic tube lines resulted in a number of unclaimed passes at the entrance to Number 4, and panel member Dan Marchant numbered among those delayed. Upon discovering the central theme of this session appeared to be Brexit, some of us remembered those overcrowded tube carriages fondly.
Clive Bates was in full flow, making genuinely strong points in favour of remaining in the EU, although he did mention the “insane processes” that guided the development of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). More nonsense than non-science, the 10ml bottle limit was arrived at simply by compromise: “Germany wanted a 30ml limit, France wanted 10, so we ended up with an arbitrary figure.”
Daniel Prior spoke in favour of leaving, despite presenting a caveat that he didn’t really care either way, as if we remain, “we are unlikely to reverse this reliance on non-evidenced based policy making.”
The panel talked about the limit placed on businesses in the claims they can make, and Clive offered up the solution being adopted by the Canadian government, where several pre-approved statements can be mixed and matched into advertising and promotional material.
“If you think it’s bad in Europe,” said Bates, pointing overseas, he mentioned that Philip Morris probably spent in excess of ten million dollars to get approval for IQOS with the Food and Drug Administration; this figure in addition to all the other development costs incurred in bringing a product to market.
“I don’t think nobody else [bar tobacco companies] has the ability to do this, so thank goodness for Europe.”
Daniel Pryor expounded that is an example of established markets always favouring the established players, so, he believes, it’s vital that whatever direction we go in, it’s vital to promote market competition.
Dan Marchant spoke about how our vape events have become dominated by American brands. Unable to afford to launch new lines in their home markets, pushing their brands in European markets allows them to meet the financial obligations they have to their employees. It highlighted how our regulation framework is more functional then the American model.
Clive Bates highlighted the role the TPD is playing in acting as a pick and mix for smaller nations as they develop their approach to vaping legislation, taking the parts they think will work.
On legislation, Dan Marchant stated that the tobacco control plan stipulates we can’t revisit the TPD, which means it’s essential that we take the opportunity to “take our rules back” so we can implement something more proportional.
Daniel Pryor was also positive: “Maybe I’m optimistic here, but if we end up with a Brexit that allows us to change regulation for vaping, we do have the politicial will to support it.”
Clive responded that if we do have problems to solve following Brexit, and we will, things like vaping and tobacco harm reduction will be pushed to the very back of the queue.
“Sorry”, said Clive as the audience laughed. Damien Bove asked why, Clive explained that the general public just don’t care that much about tobacco harm reduction and this will influence the political will.
Talk turned to taxation. Daniel Pryor recalled how when the government recently floated the idea of implementing a vape tax, there was a wholesale lack of support in business, public health and the wider community. He didn’t see a point where there would ever be a will to push this through.
This linked us to the medicalization of vaping, and Clive Bates spoke about how he had recently been told such products could attract a lower rate of vat – 5%. He said this could provide an incentive for companies to follow this route for bringing new products to market.
Dan Marchant highlighted that if a product is created compliant with the TPD then it doesn’t need to go down the medicalization route. The routes into London must have cleared as the audience was now swelling to capacity.
Continuing on the subject of taxation, Clive Bates questioned the justification for a two-tiered system that favours traditional NRT products. He cited the Hajek and West studies demonstrating the advantages offered by ecigs when compared to NRT in getting smokers to quit/switch: “Why should a product attract a lower tax rate simply because it is regulated as a medicine?”
Despite a member of the audience suggesting the since VAT is reclaimable it doesn’t make a difference to businesses, Dan Marchant spoke in favour of reducing vat from 20 to 5%. He explained this is because it knocks 15% off the retail price and therefore makes products more attractive to current smokers.
Research conducted by UKVIA prior to the Vapril campaign highlighted that while health is the primary driver to switch from smoking, price was the second most important factor for adopting vaping.
Moving onto the how the industry can influence legislative change, a voice from the audience spoke about how we can use gesture politics. This, he suggested, can be achieved by pushing to change the capacity of bottles in order to reduce the level of plastic waste vapers and businesses currently generate.
This cycled the conversation back to legislation and how open the government is to change. Clive Bates wanted everyone to remember that despite the positive statements made in parliament, the recently went to the European court to oppose the New Nicotine Alliance’s push to legalise snus; this despite overwhelming evidence form Sweden of its benefits.
The session was brought to close by the panel discussing the threat posed to the industry and consumers by unlicensed shortfill eliquids. While the threat posed by some products wasn’t universally accepted. Dan Marchant pointed out that if a business isn’t convinced by the quality of a product his suggestion was they shouldn’t sell it.