It’s regulation, but not as we want it

Yes, I know. Another post on rules and stuff. Sorry about that, but I’ve been doing my usual reading and thinking. I also watched Brexit: The Movie where I discovered a few things I hadn’t known previously – none of which made any kind of difference to how I’m going to be voting, but they were interesting nevertheless.

The thing is, and this is from Brexit: The Movie, post-war Britain was a shambles. Post-war Germany not so much. The difference? Regulation. Britain had rules for a lot of things, while Germany did the exact opposite. Interesting things happened, not least of which was the British economy suffered greatly while Germany prospered. Startling. So what does this have to do with this post?

Everything.

Specifically the ridiculousness of the Tobacco Products Directive – 2014/40/EU. If you have seen Brexit: The Movie, you’ll remember how many EU rules affect our daily lives – some (and I hate to say it) are not so bad and some are really really really fucking stupid. It wouldn’t surprise me if some EU Official decided to write a 600-page document on the correct way to breathe, just for kicks mind.

Rules are generally there for a good reason, not just for the sake of having a rule. Thing is, the TPD – even the more relaxed interpretation of the UK Government – is a rule just for the sake of having a rule.

Rules & Regulation

Rules and regulation. In general they mean the same damn thing. In terms of the TPD it’s a list of onerous, unnecessary items required in order to be “compliant” – the 2ml tanks, 10ml bottles, list the ingredients etc etc.

Regulation is often seen as the “holy grail” of law making and is ostensibly used as a bar to “influence” competition. Once upon a time, regulation was used to set general rules on things – like manufacturing – to encourage competition. Not so much now. The amount of regulation in the UK, and the EU is only serving to stifle competition. Big multi-national corporations love regulation as they can make it next to impossible for smaller businesses to thrive – that of course depends on the industry, some are far more regulation heavy than others.

Regulation in general – when it is applied correctly, which a large proportion of the UK regs are not (mostly the ones handed down to us by the Commission) is more or less like the “Process Document” in a quality management system. It details the “why” and not the “how”. That’s where standards come in.

Quality Standards

A different approach would be to have certain standards (which are usually enforced by less restrictive rules) to adhere to – after all, that is the supposed “aim” of the TPD, especially with regards to vapour products. One of the leading, and easily recognisable standards agency is of course the British Standards Institute – the BSI. Then there’s ISO and CEN. Let me clarify something, the company I work for adheres to the ISO9001:2008 standard that details processes. The ISO9001 standard itself does not tell businesses how to run themselves, it applies a set of self-governing guidelines that are inherent in the process documentation.

I never want to have to write another Quality Manual ever again. The thing is, how each company complies with the ISO standard is more or less up to them – there’s certain things they have to do in a certain way, but the rest is up to the company. In our case we had a “Manual” which gave a top-level overview of how we implemented the standard, a list of the process documents (processing orders for example), along with lists of work instructions (how to process orders) and forms (the input/output documentation that completes the entire process). We then had “Process” documents – essentially an overview of a particular aspect of how the company functions. Work Instructions detailed how to do bits of a certain process.

Sounds confusing doesn’t it? Writing the documentation certainly was – and yes, there was a detailed process and work instruction on how to write the documentation. That took some doing.

There are of course other ISO standards – ISO9001:2008 relates more to quality management – business improvement opportunities, incident reporting and continuous improvement type of thing. There’s ISO14000 – Environmental Management, ISO45001 – Occupational Health & Safety (I’m sure Rhydian is intimately familiar with that one). ISO27001 – Information Security (that one is a royal pain in the arse). ISO 8601 – Date and Time Format.

A quick search of ISO on “Manufacturing” turns up a number of standards from automated systems management, to manufacturing the hull of a boat or ship.

ISO standards are not to be taken lightly. Yes writing the documentation to comply with the standard is a royal pain, but (and I do speak from experience) the benefits of compliance far outweigh the downsides of drafting the documentation. As our external auditor said to me – “If I, an outsider to your industry can come in, pick up your manuals and do the job, then the documentation is correct” – think about that for a second. Any individual can (if given access to our company premises) pick up our QMS and do the job as outlined in that tome. It isn’t regulation. It isn’t a rule. It is a standard.

The benefits of an internationally recognised standard, as per the ISO website:

ISO International Standards ensure that products and services are safe, reliable and of good quality. For business, they are strategic tools that reduce costs by minimizing waste and errors, and increasing productivity. They help companies to access new markets, level the playing field for developing countries and facilitate free and fair global trade.

We have heard, on countless occasions that the vapour products industry isn’t regulated, it isn’t safe, we don’t know what’s in them etc. Thing is, any manufacturer anywhere in the world that is complying with, and accredited for any of the ISO standards related to quality management, manufacturing or any other ISO standard – is already following processes and guidelines on safety, efficiency and quality.

True, there aren’t any ISO level standards for e-liquids specifically, but there are standards on laboratory testing which a e-liquid producer can look at – even if it is just to find a testing lab to test their liquids for nasties. So you see, the mechanisms are already in place (mostly) to ensure that the products we use are as safe as can be – the only thing missing really is a guideline or standard on the composition of the e-liquid.

So, when looking at the vapour product industry many who don’t like us insist it needs to be “regulated”. They want age restrictions on who can buy the products (I disagree with that), they want the use of these products “prohibited” in certain places (I disagree with that too). They want to know what’s in the e-liquid (I find this one annoying, but fairly reasonable). The EU wants e-liquid above 2% (20mg/ml) to be medically licensed (fuck no). There’s to be restrictions on bottle sizes (get thee behind me satan!) and tanks sizes (for fuck sake) and a whole host of other imposed rules that are literally there for the sake of being there.

Look, I get it. Folk hear the word “regulation” and are often reassured that the product is “safe” – they don’t seem to get the concept that standards are the better option for enhancing safety. Consider “regulation” to be the “Manual” with standards being the “processes and work instructions”. The regulation being imposed here in the UK (regardless of how “light touch” the MHRA are trying to be – and to be perfectly honest, I still remain sceptical how “light touch” they will stay) probably won’t affect me as much as I expected. It probably won’t affect the vast majority of those like me. It will have a major effect on the proportion of the user base that:

  • don’t frequent the forums, twitter and facebook
  • currently dual use
  • are looking to switch
  • use the higher nicotine strengths

That’s right. The people most affected by the implementation of Article 20 are the ones that aren’t vapers yet. There’s 2.6 million vapers in the UK, there’s a proportion of that figure that dual use, there’s a proportion of that figure that use 24mg/ml. Neither of these groups will be able to continue to legally get what they need – assuming dual users use high strength products.

Regulation for regulation sake doesn’t do anything other than stifle competition. In most cases it even stifles innovation and market evolution. On rare occasions, manufacturers find little “work arounds” to comply with regulation while still keeping costs down. VW anyone?

A message to the politicians of the world. Stop bloody regulating for the sake of it. Learn from the immense growth of Britain pre-war and Germany post-war when regulations just weren’t there. Stop meddling in our lives.

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