Ignoring the record low smoking rates achieved by countries who implemented tobacco harm reduction strategies, Ireland has announced new restrictive vape laws which are likely to drive vapers to the back market.
Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has recently announced a new set of vape regulations including a ban on disposable vapes and another on flavoured products.The legislation advanced by Donnelly also sets to prohibit vape sales to those under 18 and bans vape advertisements around schools, public transport and cinemas.
Fines or imprisonment would be faced by those caught selling vapes to minors. Moreover, the Irish government plans to await EU restrictions on vape labelling and flavours while considering constraints on point-of-sale vape advertising. The announcement has been met with concern by tobacco harm reduction (THR) groups such as the World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA), as some of the restrictions are believed to be counter productive to reducing smoking rates.
Citing successful harm reduction strategies in countries like Sweden, the WVA raised concerns about the consequences of these measures on public health and harm reduction. WVA Director Michael Landl, reiterated that prohibition has always proven to be an ineffective approach.
Bans drive black markets
THR experts have incessantly explained that bans on disposable vapes will not eliminate demand but rather drive it to unregulated markets, potentially resulting in unintended public health risks. Landl emphasized the value of disposable vapes as a stepping stone for smokers seeking to quit, with their non-committal nature offering an easy transition and making the path from smoking to vaping a smoother one.
Similarly, a flavour ban would be counterproductive to harm reduction, as flavours are known to motivate adult smokers to switch to vaping, with research indicating a 230% increase in quitting odds. Restricting flavours is seen as likely to drive vapers to the black market or back to smoking. For instance, Estonia’s 2020 ban on flavours resulted in many vapers continuing to use their preferred flavours by simply changing where they purchased them from.
THR experts consistently stress the crucial role of flavours in helping smokers quit, and warn that banning flavours would hinder smokers’ transition and potentially lead Irish consumers back to smoking, obstructing the path to a smoke-free Ireland.
The success achieved by opposing strategies is being ignored
In contrast, the United Kingdom has embraced vaping as a smoking cessation tool through its “Swap-to-Stop” program, aiming to further reduce smoking rates and promote vaping as a harm reduction strategy.
Countries with an open harm reduction approach, such as Sweden and the UK, have successfully reduced smoking rates to record lows. Ireland’s Health Minister is sadly disregarding scientific evidence and the experiences of other countries. He is being warned that the announced policies could lead Ireland down a counterproductive path of prohibition, failing to effectively address the most harmful form of nicotine consumption: smoking.
Large study to look into the impact of vaping in Ireland
Meanwhile, the Irish Government has recently allocated €24 million to 43 research projects, with €550,000 specifically designated to study the impact of vaping, particularly among young individuals. Conducted by the Royal College of Surgeons, the research intends to address health concerns linked to e-cigarette advertising directed at young people.
Additionally, a wellbeing study aiming to examine student health in colleges across Ireland is also being conducted. The Pathway Programme is facilitated by the Irish Research Council (IRC) and Science Foundation Ireland (SFI). Ireland’s Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, believes that conducting research on vaping is a must in order to establish an evidence base to assess its impact and potentially prevent tobacco-like health issues.
He recognizes the use of vapes among both smokers trying to quit and the worrisome uptake among young individuals attracted by flavours and marketing strategies. However he wrongly assumes that the major target of vape brands isn’t primarily long-term smokers but rather a younger audience who have never smoked, suggesting that attracting this demographic seems to be the industry’s main objective. Acknowledging the lack of conclusive evidence on the health impact of vaping, he believes this research is essential for informing future governmental actions.