Some folks just don’t get it

As most of my regular readers are aware I engage, quite frequently with my local MP. I had a delightful e-mail exchange on the run up to the General Election which sadly didn’t tell me much, other than:

I think it is vitally important that we get the right balance to manage the risks and the benefits of e-cigarettes.

Whenever a politician says “balance” I immediately cringe, especially as it is a phrase that is overly used by one Mark Drakeford when speaking in political wibble.

Now, my initial e-mail was thorough, detailed and very specific in what I wanted, after all I wanted my MP to know just how much I knew about the subject I was writing to him about. Bearing in mind this was April 2015 so there were some parts I wasn’t so sure on then, but am now.

To be clear, there are currently no plans for a government ban on the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed spaces in England. However, this is a developing area of policy and that situation may change if the developing understanding of the evidence shows that this is necessary. That is why the Department of Health is, quite rightly, continuing to keep all the emerging evidence on electronic cigarettes under close review.

I think it is vitally important that we get the right balance to manage the risks and the benefits of e-cigarettes. The UK has shown how robust regulation can be applied to innovative nicotine products designed and claiming to be quitting aids.

I would like to see a market in which these products, whether licenced or not, are marketed only to smokers and do not want to see them taken up by children and non-smokers. For e-cigarettes not licensed as medicines, the EU Tobacco Products Directive will apply from 2016. This will introduce a range of controls including prohibiting print and broadcast advertising, placing a cap on nicotine concentrations, restricting and declaring ingredients and requiring health warnings on the pack. In addition, Parliament has passed a law that will make it illegal to sell e-cigarettes to under 18s or to buy them on behalf of under 18s.

In my view, this shows that the government has already taken robust action in this area and will continue to do so in future if the evidence shows that this is necessary.

Thank you once again for taking the time to contact me. I hope this goes some way to addressing your concerns. Please do not hesitate to get in touch in the future.

As I’m sure you have guessed, this is a pretty standard non-committal answer, and one that was most likely written by an assistant and not my MP himself. So I replied, detailing my concerns once more in direct response to his message. To which I get this response:

Thank you for your detailed and thoroughly researched response to my email.

Of course I recognise that e-cigarettes have been the subject of much debate in recent years both domestically and at the EU level, particularly since the European Commission published its proposal for a revised Tobacco Products Directive.

I am assured that throughout negotiations on the revised Directive, the UK Government was clear that it did not want to force these increasingly popular products off the market. However, it was also very aware of the concern that e-cigarettes should not become attractive to young people. Additionally, in recognising how novel e-cigarettes are, it wants the emerging e-cigarette market to be monitored closely.

The government’s position on the regulation of e-cigarettes is that Ministers wish to see them widely available but with stronger consumer safeguards on quality and safety. I am glad that the government also wants to retain the ability to monitor their wider impact, and specifically to ensure that they are not being marketed to young people or used as a tool for recruiting new smokers.

In March of 2014, European Union member states formally adopted the revised Directive, including the provisions for regulation of electronic cigarettes. Article 20 of the Directive will subject electronic cigarettes to consumer products legislation, with specific additional regulatory requirements unless they fall under the definition of a medicinal product.

Thank you once again for taking the time and trouble to get in touch with me once again.

Strangely missing the point, and not really answering any of my concerns. My next message was unsurprisingly met with silence. Multiple attempts to arrange a face to face failed dismally, either I couldn’t get time off work to go see him, or he wasn’t available (odd that) whenever I was. Which leads me to my latest saga with my MP.

By now, most of you should have taken the opportunity to write to your MP or Welsh AM using the Write To Vape website, so instead of a direct mail as before I decided to use Write To Vape which based on the popular site Write To Them. Using this process, the addressee has to respond and respond he did.

Doesn’t it look incredibly familiar?

The Government recognises that e-cigarettes help some smokers to quit and the evidence indicates that they are considerably less harmful to health than cigarettes. At the same time, it is essential that we do not encourage smoking and continue to protect children from the effects of nicotine.

The rules set out in the revised Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), published in April 2014, will apply in the UK from 20 May 2016 and cover tobacco and smokeless tobacco products, herbal products and will, for the first time, regulate e-cigarettes. The Government has consulted on how to implement them.

Ministers understand that e-cigarettes are helpful to some people wishing to quit smoking, but the quality of products on the market remains highly variable. It is therefore important that proportionate regulation is introduced to ensure minimum safety requirements and that information is provided to consumers so that they can make informed choices. This is the aim of the regulatory framework set out in the TPD.

In implementing the new EU rules, the Government intends to work towards regulation that will permit a range of products, to remain on the market which are positioned as alternatives to smoking, not as products that introduce children to vaping or smoking. From May, e-cigarettes that are licenced by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency will still be able to be advertised, and the advertising of all other e-cigarettes will no longer permitted on television.

I hope that this reassures you that the new rules in the revised TPD do not aim to prevent people from using e-cigarettes, but rather to provide consumers with safer, less variable products.

I’d be willing to bet that further attempts to arrange a face to face will fail again, but I’ll continue to bug the hell out of my MP until I get somewhere.

Some folks just do not get it.