Lifestyle Economics

Lift EU regulations to let vaping flourish after Brexit



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Lifestyle Economics

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The introduction of safer, alternative nicotine products to the market should be celebrated. Deterring smokers from using e-cigarettes – which have much lower health risks associated with them – through restrictive regulation is nonsensical and counter-productive, particularly if politicians want to reduce smoking rates.

A raft of evidence shows that vaping leads to smoking cessation. Once e-cigarettes became mainstream, consumer products in the UK, smoking rates fell by nearly five percentage points in just four years. This progress has since been hampered by unnecessary EU regulation.

A new report from the Institute of Economic Affairs makes the case that Brexit provides an opportunity to establish a more rational and liberal regulatory environment in the UK, to allow for the development of products that provide smokers with a safer substitute.

The evidence

It is no coincidence that the two EU countries that have experimented most with alternative nicotine products have the lowest smoking rates – and this is not down to anti-smoking regulation or culture.


  • Once e-cigarettes became mainstream consumer products in the UK, smoking rates sharply declined, falling from 20.4 per cent in 2012 to 15.8 per cent in 2016

  • By 2016 England had two million vapers who had given up smoking

  • A further 470,000 vapers were using e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting

  • This all happened under a relatively free market in vaping technology. But since May 2017 the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive has severely limited what can be sold


  • In Sweden where snus is available, only 7 per cent of Swedes are smokers

  • This is much lower than the EU average of 26 per cent

  • And yet the EU bans the sale of snus in every member state except Sweden

The myths 

It is often argued by public health campaigners that ‘vaping is a gateway to smoking’ and that ‘dual use of e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes keep people smoking’. Neither of these assertions are true:

  • Fewer than 0.5 per cent of those who have never smoked use e-cigarettes, which means vaping cannot turn many nonsmokers into smokers

  • 96 per cent of lifelong nonsmokers have never tried vaping

  • The decline in smoking rates strongly suggests that neither assertion about vaping is true

The consequences of restrictive regulation: 

With regulations that increase costs, restrict choice, limit competition and prevent vaping companies from advertising in most media, the EU is hampering progress in nudging smokers to switch to vaping, and effectively encouraging the use of the least healthy option: regular cigarettes. 62 per cent of smokers in the EU have still not tried e-cigarettes. Even in Britain, where e-cigarettes are more popular, a third of smokers have never tried vaping.

More smokers would switch to vaping if the market was allowed to reach its full potential. A more liberal regulatory regime post-Brexit will facilitate this.

Commenting on the study, author Chris Snowdon, Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs, said: 

“In any list of unnecessary and counter-productive EU regulation, the recent laws on e-cigarettes must be near the top. No one benefits from these arbitrary regulations and they have been widely criticised by politicians and health experts alike. If we don’t repeal low hanging fruit like this after Brexit, we won’t repeal anything.”

Notes to editors: 

For media enquiries please contact Nerissa Chesterfield, Communications Officer: [email protected] or 020 7799 8920 or 07791 390268

To download a copy of ‘Vaping Solutions: An easy Brexit win’ please click here.

Further IEA Reading: Killjoys: A Critique of Paternalism

The mission of the Institute of Economic Affairs is to improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems and seeks to provide analysis in order to improve the public understanding of economics.

The IEA is a registered educational charity and independent of all political parties.