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Why Is E-Liquid Classed As A Tobacco Product?

Why Is E-Liquid Classed As A Tobacco Product?

John Boughey |

Last fact-checked 24 April 2024

For almost a decade, vaping has been grouped with smoking under the UK’s Tobacco and Related Products Regulations (TRPR). These rules affect how e-cigarettes and e-liquids are sold, where we can vape and how much e-liquid we can buy in one go. 

Many vapers feel that being lumped in with smokers is unfair. Some don’t even see how e-liquid could be considered a tobacco product at all. There is also some tension surrounding the fact that the UK’s TRPR law is directly linked to the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive, or TPD (explained here).

In this guide, we’ll explain why e-liquid is currently classified as a tobacco product under UK Law. We’ll also share our thoughts on when — and how — the rulebook might change in future. 

E-Liquid Containing Nicotine Is A Tobacco Product

There is no tobacco in shortfill e-liquid. Shortfill is a simple blend of VG, PG and flavourings and contains no nicotine (see our guide to VG and PG here). Nic salts and booster shots, on the other hand, do contain nicotine ... and this nicotine has almost always been extracted directly from the tobacco plant. As a result, nicotine-infused e-liquid is almost always a tobacco product

I say ‘almost always’, because nicotine can technically be synthesised in a laboratory. Synthesising nicotine is a complex, costly process. It’s not yet really a commercially-viable option here in the UK. The simplest and most cost-effective way to make nicotine is still to extract it from tobacco leaves, which is why most nicotine boosters and nicotine salts on the market are still technically ‘tobacco products’. 

Why is all e-liquid governed by TRPR?

Nicotine may be a tobacco product, but e-liquid, in its purest form, is not. So why was all e-liquid and vaping equipment mentioned in the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016? One simple answer is that it probably made sense at the time. 

Ten short years ago, vaping was almost completely unheard of. Our industry was in desperate need of some sort of regulation. For the politicians in charge of signing off on this law, it probably made sense to just go ahead and get something in place. 

The UK is in a different position now than it was back in 2016. Brexit and Covid took up a lot of time in parliament, so it's only now that we're seeing a whole new raft of vaping laws coming through (see our article on the Tobacco and Vapes bill). None of the new vaping laws are loosening the restrictions set out in the TRPR, however. 

The Problems With TRPR

There are problems with lumping e-liquids in with tobacco products under TRPR. Some of the problems we’ve seen with the way that e-liquids are controlled (and not controlled) are:

Volumes are limited. Vape devices can’t carry more than 2ml of e-liquid, and nicotine-infused e-liquid can’t be sold in bottles larger than 10ml. This is annoying for a lot of committed vapers. Not only is it inconvenient (you need to refill frequently), but it severely limits the number of squonk mods on the UK market. 

Spillages are more likely. By forcing vapers to mix their own shortfill at home, the risk of spillages is increased. Spillages risk nicotine making contact with an individual’s bare skin.  We would much rather see a situation where someone could buy a larger volume of nicotine-infused e-liquid that they didn’t have to mix themselves. The fewer opportunities there are for nicotine spillages, the safer it is for vapers. 

Battery safety is not covered. E-cigarettes use high-performance batteries and heating elements. Most box mods come with safety chips to keep vapers safe, but there is a real risk of fire if inexperienced vapers attempt to ‘jailbreak’ the safety features on their box mod or buy unregulated products. Arguably, it would be better if e-cigarettes had their own specific set of regulations that could cover nicotine consumption and electronic safety.

Will The Law Change?

When we initially wrote this article, we were convinced that the TRPR rules would eventually change. Now, we're not so sure. The last public consultation on TRPR closed over 2 years ago (link here), and most vapers have learned to live with the restrictions set out in the law. We're always watching for future announcements, but we're certainly not holding our breath.

Stay safe and happy vaping!

John Boughey

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