Users of certain e-liquid products designed for e-cigarettes, an increasingly popular alternative to cigarettes and other tobacco products, could face health risks due to a regulatory loophole in the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 (TRPR).

According to industry expert Mark Fawcett, who manages GoSmokeFree.co.uk, regulations in the UK do not adequately cover the production of “short fills” — a nicotine-free e-liquid product that’s popular with users of e-cigarettes and vaporisers.

Short fill e-liquids, which is also referred to as “shake and vape” liquids, does not contain any nicotine. They’re supplied in a bottle that allows users to add a nicotine shot before use, letting users easily add unflavoured nicotine.

Because short fills lack any nicotine content, they’re not fully covered by existing regulations on nicotine products. This has led to an increase in the manufacturing of short fills by unscrupulous people unconcerned with public safety.  

While short fills are legal in the UK and widely used by e-cigarette users, the lack of regulations surrounding their manufacturing leaves consumers at risk, Mr Fawcett claims.

“The government put legislation in place to make sure everyone could be held accountable for the products they put into circulation but now with these short fill bottles, this legislation is being sidestepped.”

“The MHRA is not regulating these products and that’s a big mistake, as no one is patrolling the products vapers are using on a day to day basis.”

Mr Fawcett believes that this lack of regulation increases the risk of consumers using short fills made outside the UK by non-professional manufacturers.”

“Professional e-liquid manufacturers spend thousands of pounds on testing to make sure their products are safe for consumer use and don’t contain any nasties, such as 2,3-pentanedione, diacetyl and acetoin.”

These ingredients are linked to a range of health conditions, including bronchiolitis obliterans (known as “popcorn lung”) and respiratory tract damage.

Many short fill e-liquids originate from outside the UK, often produced by manufacturers without any significant qualifications or safety certifications.

“Because short fills e-liquids only consist of vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol and flavourings, scrupulous members of the public think they can just throw anything together and try and make a few pennies from it.”

This creates major safety risks for consumers: “Potentially, someone could make a deliberately bad batch, sell it locally and never have to deal with the consequences.”

Mr Fawcett states that customers should be attentive to what they’re buying in order to avoid being exposed to low quality, potentially unsafe short fills. He recommends that end users pay attention to the packaging of any short fill e-liquids they purchase:

“Often homemade short fills will have on the packaging, ‘manufactured for’ followed by the name of a large wholesaler, rather than ‘manufactured by’, which provides accountability.”

He also recommends that consumers check the manufacturers and suppliers of short fills and other e-liquid products with the MHRA, which can be done online.

Currently, e-liquid products are regulated in the UK under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 and Tobacco Products Directive 2016 (TPD). However, these regulations do not cover e-liquid products that do not contain any nicotine.