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Officials on both sides of the Atlantic caught in an old nicotine delusion

Is nicotine really the big baddie when it comes to tobacco products and their alternatives? Some people in positions of authority – people you might think ought to know better – still seem to think so.

Trading standards officers in Liverpool told the local paper they had found 74 retail outlets across the city selling illegal e-cigarette products.

A casual reader might have got the impression from the headline – “Investigation reveals scale of illegal vaping problem” – that vaping itself is illegal in the UK, which of course is not the case. Far from it.

There are, however, strict rules on what is and what isn’t allowed. Rules still, for now, inherited from the EU.

Even in a city the size of Liverpool (population around 1.5m), 74 stores selling products that break those rules seems like a lot, but it’s probably safe to assume that the findings are fairly representative of the UK overall – or at least the major population centres.

Specifically, what trading standards were looking for – and found – was products with too much nicotine. Either in concentrations above the 2 mg/ml (2%) limit, or in tanks or cartridges exceeding the 2 ml maximum capacity.


‘Even worse for their health’?

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    Those limits are of course well below what is generally accepted in the US, for example – despite (or perhaps partly explaining) the controversial image vaping has in that nation. Products seized as illegal in Liverpool might well be perfectly legitimate and normal in the States.

    Nevertheless, Liverpool councillor Abdul Qadir, who apparently gave the trading standards inspectors their mission, told the Liverpool Echo: “Our worrying research shows that people are unknowingly exposing themselves to far more nicotine than they would from using cigarettes, meaning they are even worse for their health.”

    Thereby revealing himself as one of those well-meaning authority figures labouring under an old delusion about the relative dangers of nicotine and smoke.

    A delusion which, incidentally, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may also have been suffering when it granted marketing authorisation for two low-nicotine cigarettes, VLN King and VLN Menthol King, as “modified risk” tobacco products.

    Apparently overlooking the fact that while nicotine is addictive, it’s all the other things in traditional cigarettes, like tar, that cause fatal respiratory and heart conditions and cancer. So that reducing the nicotine level in them may actually make combustible cigarettes more dangerous, not less, by encouraging people to smoke more in order to get the same hit.

    While the “modified risk” label may well give people the entirely false impression that the dangerous stuff has been removed.

    Aidan Semmens ECigIntelligence staff

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    Aidan Semmens