Vaping is still a relatively new phenomenon, having only been a significant part of everyday life for the past ten years at most. Since this time the vaping industry has seen massive shifts in regulation, as products evolve and governing bodies scramble to adapt laws to bring e-liquids and vaping devices in-line with other, long-established consumer goods.
Vaping is treated very differently around the globe, with different countries applying their own laws to regulate the production, sale, and consumption of e-cigarettes. Some have simply banned them altogether.
Here in the UK, there is one overseas vaping market that impacts our own significantly – The USA. Historically the vaping regulations between the UK and USA have been very different, with the latter having far fewer controls in place to ensure the e-liquids and vaping devices produced and sold there were safe. Ingredients known to cause harm like Diacetyl, infamous for the popcorn lung incidents, were banned very early in the UK, whereas they were freely used in the USA for many years hence.
The UK saw a brief period of “lawlessness” in the vaping market up until the 19th May 2014, when the European-wide Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) introduced new regulatory controls on both e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco products. This laid the foundation for the 2016 UK Tobacco and Related Products Regulations (TRPR) which saw TPD enforced in full here in Britain.
US vs UK Vaping Regulations
Despite being behind the curve for a few years when compared to the UK, America is now catching up, and has imposed a number of stricter controls upon the vaping industry. As with most legislation in the USA, each state has a slightly different approach. Despite this, there are now some over-arcing policies that apply in almost every part of the country.
Every country has experienced a few teething issues, with vaping products causing a few public health concerns over the years. The USA however has seen some of the worst of these, from exploding devices to the EVALI lung disease outbreak. While initially these were blamed on vaping in general, further investigations uncovered that it was the relaxed regulations allowing people to access potentially harmful products that held the most blame.
While these events were unfolding in the US, the UK was already enjoying a far safer vaping industry because of the impact of TPD and TRPR restrictions, preventing harmful ingredients and unlicenced devices from reaching consumers, with only a handful of extreme exceptions such as the recent influx of illegal disposable vapes hitting UK shelves.
There have been long-term concerns in the USA and UK over younger children and teenagers using e-cigarettes and disposables. The problem was found to be far lesser than feared in the UK, highlighted by a study part-funded by Cancer Research UK. Recently however a new youth vaping crisis is emerging in Britain due to the accessibility of trendy disposable vapes.
The USA however has had greater issues, with different laws between states creating confusion and minimal restrictions in place at all. This has resulted in many unfortunate events, such as nicotine addiction, health issues, and death. To effectively fix this problem, all 51 US states and districts decided to make it harder for the youth to access these vaping products.
As of December 2019, each state throughout the country has raised the age needed to purchase any vaping products. However, some states raised their ages differently from others. Twenty-seven state raised the age to 18; five raised the age to 19, and 19 raised the age to 21. The UK’s legal age has remained at 18, but following the Khan Review, this may change soon to 21 or above.
In the UK, vape packaging is held to strict standards by lawmakers. Set symbols, hazard warnings defined by careful calculations carried out on every ingredient to be added to a new vape juice. Clear nicotine and health warnings must dominate designs, like other tobacco products on sale. The images used must also be seen to comply with youth access prevention regulations which state that misleading images of food stuffs or enticing designs that could encourage children to vape cannot be present.
The USA did not introduce similar laws until more recently. Before, vaping products were simple for the youth to access and use. After the government decided to fix this growing problem, they also wanted to change the way vaping products were packaged. Several states have already imposed a packaging system for these products to warn of the danger it can impose on those who use them. They are also there to remind the buyer that children cannot use the products.
Currently, there are 29 states with specific laws around how to package vaping products. They make sure that each packaged product has the necessary precautions to prevent children from accessing them. Including the danger of using the product, reminding the buyer that the product isn’t for children, making sure that all caps on products are tightly secured, and wrapping all products securely and tightly.
In the UK, in order to release an e-liquid to market, the manufacturer must follow a strict process. This involves submitting the product for emissions testing to ensure any carbonyl (carcinogenic compounds) produced when vaped fall below harmful levels. In addition, every single ingredient – including the many small amounts of chemicals in flavourings are calculated to determine if they are present at an acceptably safe level. The results of these calculations determine the hazard warnings present on the packaging and any allergens that might be present.
Once this scientific process is complete, all the product data is submitted to the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) where they are assessed, and approved or denied. If approved, they are added to the legal product register and can be sold.
The USA however did not have similar laws until much more recently. They have now caught up considerably and have imposed a number of strict rules even minimising the number of flavours available. In response to the recurring national health outcries, the USA took the decision to ban any flavours beyond Menthol or Tobacco from being used in any nicotine containing e-liquid.
This caused a new problem however, with many manufacturers circumventing the law by instead switching out the commonly used natural nicotine derived from tobacco leaves. They replaced it with an artificial nicotine en-masse. The law had a loophole as it suggested the ban did not apply to artificial nicotine containing e-liquids. This led to a resurgence of products containing harmful ingredients that were still banned in the UK.
The US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) was initially slow to react. When these products first came onto the market, some companies claimed that synthetic nicotine products did not have to be regulated by the FDA. While this was not accurate, the FDA was slow to determine how it would regulate these products and it was unclear whether these products would be regulated as tobacco products or drugs.
On March 11th 2022 however, Congress passed, and the President signed into law that synthetic nicotine products must be regulated by the FDA’s Centre for Tobacco Products in the same way that tobacco-derived nicotine products are regulated. This closed the regulatory gap surrounding synthetic nicotine products and ensures that synthetic nicotine and tobacco-derived nicotine products are all regulated under the Centre for Tobacco Products using the same standard universally.
Since the law tightened the FDA, which acts as the equivalent to the UK’s MHRA, have rejected more than one million vaping product applications, with the primary reason being their appeal to teens. This alone demonstrates how far the USA has come, bringing it in-line if not beyond the UK’s levels of safety control and youth access prevention.
Despite positive steps being taken, there is still room for the USA to catch up to the UK. Bottle size restrictions, as well as caps on nicotine level have been in place for years in the UK. You cannot buy any e-liquid containing nicotine in a size greater than 10ml, and it cannot be any more than 20mg of nicotine in strength like our Nic Salts. Most UK made 50-50 e-liquid will only contain as much as 18mg. The USA by comparison still allows up to 50mg of nicotine, does not restrict bottle size and allows the volume of liquid in a vaping device to exceed 2ml – the current UK limit.