A Qualitative Exploration of Consumers’ Perceived Impacts, Behavioral Reactions, and Future Reflections of the EU Tobacco Products Directive (2017) as Applied to Electronic Cigarettes

Summary of Study

Bottom line: Through 160 qualitative interviews, this study examines how Europe's Tobacco Product Directive (TPD) influenced e-cigarette users. Results show that the TPD caused inconvenience, extra plastic waste, non-compliance, safety risks, and potentially reduced the switching from smoking to vaping, harming public health.

E-cigarettes are the most popular smoking cessation aid chosen by UK smokers and have been shown to be effective for smoking cessation. The vaping community and some scientists raised concerns that a reduction in nicotine strength in the TPD might stop smokers from switching to e-cigarettes or cause users to relapse to smoking because the lower strength may not satisfy cravings. UK policymakers were worried that price increases would drive consumers to the black market, potentially putting their health at risk. Consumers and retailers have found legal methods to overcome the restrictions resulting from the TPD.

While 29 percent of participants in this survey report no awareness of the TPD, most of the respondents -- especially males -- noted a reaction. For instance, many participants noted an increase in price. The restriction on e-liquid strength to 20mg/ml was considered too low by many participants. Although no participants mentioned relapsing to smoking themselves as a result of the changes, several commented that the TPD may prevent smokers from converting to vaping.

Some participants commented that products they normally used were no longer sold as they did not comply with the new regulations, resulting in having to buy new parts. The reduction in tank size to 2ml and refill bottles to 10ml was an unpopular change among the participants who reported having to refill the tank more frequently and carry several smaller refill bottles around with them. In addition, they reported that it made the vaping process more difficult as everything is now smaller.

Some participants commented that reduced tank size could discourage smokers to switch due to the added inconvenience. In addition to finding the smaller bottles inconvenient, many participants were uncomfortable with the extra plastic waste that was being generated.

Many participants had bought non-compliant products online from the black market via countries where the regulations did not apply. Also, many respondents felt that the warning labels may deter people from switching from smoking to e-cigarettes.

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