You're toking the mick: e-ciggies to be called 'medicines' in the UK

Britain's medicines regulator has started huffing and puffing about the safety of electronic cigarettes, and says that from 2016 a licence will be needed to produce or sell them - the same as drugs makers.

by Michael Northcott
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013

The cigarette manufacturers have been onto a crafty one over the last decade. Since the introduction of the electronic cigarette – which allows users to inhale a nicotine mist instead of actual smoke – many firms have been investing heavily in the technology. About 1.3 million Brits use the devices, which are touted as being less harmful to your health, and a good aid for kicking the habit.

But now, the MHRA (Britain’s drugs regulator) has weighed in with concerns that they may still be harmful. At the moment, the devices are treated as ‘consumer products’, same as a mobile phone, for example. But under new regulations taking effect in 2015, a tough new regime will force manufacturers to meet certain standards. 

The regulator’s head of vigilance and risk management of medicines (long title), Jeremy Mean, says: ‘Reducing the harms of smoking to smokers and those around them is a key government health priority. Our research has shown that existing electronic cigarettes and other nicotine containing products on the market are not good enough to meet this public health priority.’ It's also worth noting that the e-cigarette is actually not illegal for children - a sure way to get them hooked on nicotine and trying out the real thing, right?

Government’s plans to toughen up the rules on the e-cigs are a major blow for the cigarette companies. British American Tobacco (BAT) is a FTSE constituent and one of the largest manufacturers in Britain, and has apparently been spending tons of cash on developing so-called next generation cigarettes. To suddenly find out that its ‘replacement’ for the traditional cancer-causing cigarette is under threat would be enough to warrant a stress-relieving fag break.

What’s the likelihood of the rule changes actually coming to fruition? Well, there is a precedent. The regulators have already tightened up on it in France (where until recently, almost 50% of the population were smokers), and other countries such as Germany are expected to follow suit. 

So if BAT thought there was big money to be made in the e-fag, the regulator may soon stub it out.

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