How the IBVTA shot itself in the foot
Monday, April 10, 2017 at 14:17
Simon Clark

Others have written about this already but, for what it's worth, I'll add my bit.

On Friday the Royal Society for Public Health published the results of a special investigation into the sale of e-cigarettes in vape shops in the UK.

The BBC report (Vaping shops selling to non-smokers) was typical of the way the story was covered by the media:

Almost nine in 10 e-cigarette shops in the UK are selling vaping products to non-smokers against the industry's code of conduct, an investigation reveals.

The Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) said 87% of shops were knowingly or unwittingly prepared to sell e-cigarettes to people who have never smoked or vaped.

Only later in the report did it credit the "industry's code of conduct" to the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA).

The specific point the media focussed on reads:

"Vape products are for current or former smokers and existing users of vaping devices, therefore [you should] never knowingly sell to anyone who is not a current or former smoker, or a current vaper."

There are several issues here.

1. This 'investigation' could be said to amount to a form of entrapment. Non-smokers were sent in to vape shops with the specific intention of finding out whether they could purchase e-cigarettes in breach of the "industry code of conduct".

2. It is not against the law to sell e-cigarettes to adults so not one vape shop was doing anything illegal or even morally wrong.

3. The "industry code of conduct" is nothing of the sort. The IBVTA is one of several e-cigarette trade associations and cannot be said to represent the e-cigarette "industry" as a whole.

4. Membership of the IBVTA is, I believe, quite small (fewer than 50 members according to its website) and it was not disclosed how many of the shops 'investigated' by the RSPH were actually members. If many/most were not members of the IBVTA it was disingenuous of the RSPH to suggest that "nine in 10 e-cigarette shops in the UK are selling vaping products to non-smokers against the industry's code of conduct [my emphasis]".

If the RSPH does not come out of this 'investigation' very well, the IBVTA has suffered what is arguably a worse blow.

The RSPH, after all, is a leading tobacco control body. We know the depths to which they will sink to control people's behaviour. In contrast the IBVTA should be on the side of the consumer fighting for freedom of choice.

Instead the declaration that "vape products are for current or former smokers and existing users of vaping devices" and should not be sold "to anyone who is not a current or former smoker, or a current vaper" is beyond fatuous, it's nonsense.

I agree that e-cigarettes should not be marketed at non-smokers, teenagers or otherwise, but that's as far as any code of conduct should go.

The suggestion that a vape store worker should have to ask a potential customer whether they are a "current or former smoker, or a current vaper" is a disgaceful invasion of privacy.

If a non-smoker (me, for example) walked into shop and asked to buy a pack of cigarettes I would be appalled if I had to confirm or, worse, prove I was a smoker before they would serve me. I'm 58, for Christ's sake!!

I agree with the ban on proxy purchasing of tobacco for anyone under 18 but I might be buying it for an adult friend. Or I might simply fancy a smoke myself.

Unlikely perhaps but what business is it of anyone else, and why should the shopkeeper be put in that position?

The same is equally true of e-cigarettes. If, as a non-smoker, I choose to walk into a shop and buy an e-cigarette, that's my right.

The reality, of course, is that the number of never smokers who have taken up vaping is insignificantly small so on this point the IBVTA's code of conduct is a solution to a 'problem' that barely exists.

Even if never smokers are attracted to try e-cigarettes, so what? As long as they're adults they can make that decision for themselves.

What the IBVTA has done is to fall into the trap of trying to appease the tobacco control industry which sees e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid and nothing more.

The idea that anyone – smoker or non-smoker – might choose to vape for pleasure is anathema to them. Vaping, in their eyes, is merely a stepping stone towards a smokefree (sic) world, and after that ...?

As I have written countless times, the Utopian endgame is not smoke free, it's nicotine free.

Public health has far too many jobs invested in tobacco control to quit when smoking rates dwindle to five per cent or less. There will always be the 'next logical step'.

A code of conduct mandating shops to question their customers about their smoking history opens a can of worms.

Codes of conduct, like guides to etiquette and 'voluntary' bans, have a nasty habit of being enforced in law.

Put an idea into the head of a public health professional or politician and it rarely goes away. Like a nasty case of indigestion, it rumbles on. Often it's only a matter of time before campaigners lobby government to regulate ... and we know what happens next.

A few years ago a former Labour government advisor, Professor (now Sir) Julian Le Grand, proposed a £10 licence to smoke (BBC News).

The idea has yet to fly but I'm sure it will be resurrected at some point. After all, if you want to restrict the sale of cigarettes to existing smokers, or people born after the year 2000, one way to do that is to insist on some form of ID – a licence to smoke, for example.

Likewise, if you want to prohibit never smokers from purchasing e-cigarettes, the best way is to insist that "current or former smokers and existing users of vaping devices" are identified as such.

Insofar as protecting their members' interests is concerned, the IBVTA no doubt meant well. But appeasing tobacco control almost always ends in tears.

The RSPH 'investigation' and the way it was reported by the media is a classic example of that.

Anyway, here is a selection of blog posts on the subject. The growing antipathy towards the allegedly 'pro vaping' members of the public health industry suggests a welcome realisation that tobacco control will never be a friend to vapers or consumer choice in general.

Unfortunately, to use a Spitting Image analogy, there are some pro-vaping bodies who seem happy to play David Steel rather than David Owen. And how did that go, exactly?

Real implications of the RSPH “sting” of ecig vendors (Carl Phillips)
Dear Public Health: This is why we're angry (Fergus Mason)
Today's lesson in who not to trust (Dick Puddlecote)
Much ado about nothing (Paul Barnes)

Update: Here's another blogger less than impressed by the IBVTA.

Should e-cigarettes be sold to non-smokers? (Andrew Allison)

Article originally appeared on Simon Clark (
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