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The rules on nicotine in e-liquids: a useful guide to TRPR

The rules on nicotine in e-liquids: a useful guide to TRPR now that the UK has left the EU

John Boughey |

Last fact-checked 29 April 2024

Ever wondered why — when you’re buying your shortfill e-liquid — you have to buy nicotine separately? It’s all down to the UK’s e-cigarette laws.

This week, we’ll explain the basics of the UK and EU laws on e-cigarettes and nicotine. We’ll explain the difference between TPD and TRPR - two laws you might have heard of - and we'll cover some of the risks involved in vaping nicotine. 

All about the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD)

The Tobacco Products Directive (2014/40/EU) is a law that came into force across the European Union in May 2017 (back when the UK was still a part of the EU). Commonly known as the TPD, this law covered the sale, manufacture and use of tobacco products, e-cigarettes and e-liquids (source:

Sections 6 and 7 of the TPD (the sections that cover vaping) were written to ensure minimum safety standards across Europe, protect children from taking up vaping and keep consumers fully informed of their nicotine intake and the health risks of nicotine consumption.

TPD is why pre-mixed e-liquids containing nicotine are never available in bottles larger than 10ml. It’s also why you’ll never find nicotine boosters in strengths exceeding 20mg/ml. 

Long before Brexit, the EU's TPD rules were included in a separate UK law called the Tobacco & Related Products Regulations 2016 (TRPR for short).

TPD versus TRPR: What’s the difference?

There’s a mistaken belief that the UK’s vaping laws (TRPR) are harsher or more strict than the EU’s (TPD). This simply isn’t the case — the two laws are very similar. When you read both laws and compare the contents of both documents, line for line, you’ll find that the laws are almost identical (see for yourself: here's the TPD text and here's the TRPR text).

Whether you’re buying e-liquid on your summer holidays in an EU member state or buying direct from a UK e-liquid shop like Gourmet E-Liquid, you can rely on the following shared standards: 

UK and EU rules on e-liquids and e-cigarettes:

10ml limit on e-liquid bottles containing nicotine
2ml limit on e-cigarette tanks (e-liquid reservoir)
20mg/ml maximum nicotine strength in an e-liquid
Child-proof bottles and packaging on e-cigarettes & e-liquids
Ban on adding colourings, caffeine and taurine to e-liquid
E-cigarettes and e-liquids must be registered with health authorities
Emissions testing on all e-liquids and e-cigarettes
Health warnings on packet and packaging
New products wait 6 months before going on sale
Emissions testing on all e-liquids and e-cigarettes

Nicotine: how dangerous is it? 

Nicotine is a highly addictive drug (see our “How addictive is nicotine” advice), but it’s not as harmful as some people think. The most harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke are tar and carbon monoxide. 

According to Public Health England, “Nicotine increases heart rate and blood pressure, and has a range of local irritant effects, but is not a carcinogen. It is the tar and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke, along with more than 400 other toxins, that causes almost all of the harm of smoking.” Just take a look at this revealing infographic from the website:


You might feel that, by swapping cigarettes for a vape device, you’re just swapping one form of nicotine addiction for another. This is partly true, but e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking, and with the right support, an e-cigarette can be a highly effective form of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). 

What are the laws on other chemicals in e-liquids?

Nicotine isn’t the only chemical in an e-cigarette, of course. Our laws need to protect us from vaping harmful chemicals of any kind. So far, UK regulators have taken a sensible, evidence-based approach, erring on the side of caution wherever there’s even a slight chance an ingredient could be dangerous.

Just take a look at how each of the two chemicals below is regulated:

Propylene Glycol is allowed

We know that some people experience irritation when they inhale Propylene Glycol (...which is a base ingredient of e-liquid. It’s the ‘PG’ in VG/PG). Propylene Glycol is a food-grade product, and there are no reported long-term adverse effects caused by its inhalation, so it's not banned. If anyone does experience a serious adverse reaction, they can report it directly to the authorities via the MHRA’s Yellow Card scheme, but for now the advice is simple: if you experience irritation when vaping a high-PG e-liquid, try a high-VG alternative instead. You can find out more about PG and VG here

Diacetyl is banned

A study published in 2016 found that vaping diacetyl (a food ingredient commonly used in the manufacture of microwave popcorn) could potentially contribute to a rare condition called bronchiolitis obliterans (also known as ‘popcorn lung’). At the time, diacetyl was a common ingredient in a lot of the e-liquids being produced in the US. 
Both Cancer Research UK and the NHS have said that there’s no evidence that diacetyl in e-cigarettes could cause popcorn lung, but just to be safe, the UK banned the use of diacetyl as an e-liquid ingredient in 2016. 

That’s it! I hope we’ve given you a good overview of UK vaping rules this week. Our feeling is that the UK’s current vaping rules do a really good job of keeping us safe, even if they are an inconvenience from time to time. 

We’re keeping a close eye on the latest guidance from the NHS and Public Health England, so if the rules or risks change we’ll be the first to let you know. 

Stay safe and happy vaping!

John Boughey

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