Vape Restrictions Spreading Across Eastern Europe

In Serbia, vape sales have been banned to minors in line with a recent amendment to the Law on Consumer Protection. While Hungary has reaffirmed that it will continue to treat vaping like smoking.

The ministry in charge of Serbia’s tobacco laws has recently explained that they are working on amendments to the Law on Consumer Protection, as they believe that this could be the solution to a major national vape problem. The ministry added that the popularity of the products among non-smoking youth poses a serious public health problem, as it encourages nicotine addiction and exposure to carcinogenic substances, increasing the likelihood of them moving onto combustible cigarettes.

Despite whether one agrees with such claims or not, most will agree that Serbia’s efforts to forbid sales to minors are sensible. On the other hand, Hungary is maintaining a more generic and less sensible approach. The country’s ruling party Fidesz still fails to acknowledge the scientific evidence about the potential benefits of vapes. To this effect, State Secretary of the Ministry of Interior, Benec Rétvári, said that vaping will keep on being regulated in the same way as smoking.

Discussing this statement, the Director of the World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) Michael Landl reiterated the fact that such a stance will just contribute to the loss of lives. “It is shocking that the Hungarian government still peddles worn-out and debunked myths about vaping. Rétvári systematically ignores scientific evidence proving the benefits of vaping, not to mention the first-hand experience of millions of vapers. Vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking and a more effective method to quit smoking than traditional therapies such as gum and patches. The Hungarian approach to vaping will do nothing but cost lives.”

In neighbouring Romania, a recent draft law submitted to Parliament proposes extending existing smoking restrictions to include vaping products. In this bill, smoking is defined as any voluntary consumption of smoke, vapors or aerosols. These would be banned in enclosed public spaces, public transport, indoor workplaces or children’s playgrounds. However, while the Senate’s health committee is currently debating the bill, the local human rights committee is against the initiative.

On the other hand, in Latvia a proposed bill would see tobacco and nicotine alternative products such as vapes and their components, banned to anyone aged below 20, while also banning vape flavours in general. During a second reading of the measure, 79 parliamentary members voted in favor while 6 voted against. In order for the amendments to be passed into law, a third and final reading is required.

Misinformation informing policy
While sensible regulations such as the age limit proposed in Latvia are encouraged by tobacco harm reduction experts, sweeping bans like the one proposed in Serbia are discouraged.  Sadly, the latter are the result of a serious fearmongering campaign against vaping products. Countless peer reviewed studies have indicated that the products are not only relatively safer than cigarettes but also the most effective smoking cessation tools to date. Hence denying adult smokers access to the products is a serious threat to their health.

Moreover, the claim that vaping can lead to smoking is a theory that has been disproved over and over, yet is still informing policy. In fact, a recent study published by the scientific journal Addiction, has revealed that the increase in vaping rates in England among young adults between 2007 and 2018, did not correlate with increased smoking rates. On the contrary, thanks to endorsing the products as smoking cessation tools, the nation is boasting the lowest smoking rates ever recorded.