The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), the United Kingdom’s government health agency responsible for standards of safety, quality and performance, voted in July to classify and regulate electronic cigarettes as ‘medicine.’ Once the law is implemented, the UK, comprised of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, will require all electronic cigarette manufacturers and sellers in those countries to obtain a license to sell products to UK citizens. Under this regulation, citizens will also be required to visit a doctor and receive a prescription for electronic cigarettes.
Many e-cigarette users and sellers have noted once this regulation becomes law, it will likely drive up e-cigarette costs and disrupt the industry as many users will be frustrated by the additional time and money they will have to allocate to visit a doctor and get a prescription. “We are still not clear whether e-cigarette users in the UK will only have to get a prescription once a year or once a month, which could have a huge impact on the industry in the UK,” said Cynthia Cabrera, Executive Director of SFATA.org.
The MHRA said in a statement that they wanted to “regulate all nicotine-containing products – some such as gums, patches and mouth-sprays already are – because it could not at the moment guarantee their safety and efficacy.” Many leaders in the electronic cigarette industry have mixed feelings about this new law because with the new law implementation, e-cigarettes will be allowed to be marketed as a means to cut down or quit traditional smoking, a tactic currently looked down upon and not allowed.
As electronic cigarettes have become more and more popular globally, many countries around the world have rushed to study and regulate the industry in an effort to collect taxes on e-cigarette products and provide guidelines and safety regulations for both e-cigarette users and sellers.
Many experts believe one factor leading to electronic cigarettes becoming classified as medicine in the UK has derived from pressure from big tobacco companies. “Increased regulation on e-cigarettes is a sign the government has caved into the bullying tactics of Big Tobacco, which risks sending out the wrong message that e-cigarettes pose a greater threat than smoking,” said Diane Abbott, health spokesperson at Action on Smoking and Health, a non-profit located in the UK dedicated to eliminating the harm caused by tobacco.
Many e-cigarette advocates are arguing that electronic cigarettes are receiving stricter regulation than traditional cigarettes. Although this ruling has not gone into affect yet, the UK government is campaigning for EU legislation to be introduced with the specific rules & guidelines by 2014, with the expectations to become law by 2016.