Ireland Discards Proposed Vape Tax in the Name of Tobacco Harm Reduction

While some restrictions on vapes have been set in place as part of the Public Health (Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill, an imminent tax on the products has been dropped.

The Irish Minister for Finance, Michael McGrath, has decided to postpone the implementation of an imminent vape tax due to concerns that it might discourage smokers from using e-cigarettes as a tool to quit smoking. Officials from the Department of Finance and the Department of Health expressed the need to strike a balance, discouraging young people from vaping while supporting existing smokers using vapes to transition away from traditional cigarettes.

The World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) commended the decision and urged the Irish Government to maintain a different tax rate between vapes and cigarettes. WVA Director Michael Landl emphasized that the risk profile of vaping products is significantly lower than that of combustible cigarettes, and that the tax should be relative to the products’ risk so as to incentivize smokers to switch to the safer alternatives.

Why vape taxes are counterproductive
Research has indicated that increasing vape taxes can lead to higher smoking rates, particularly among young adults. Ireland’s Department of Finance also expressed concerns about vapers turning to the black market if the tax were set in place. The implementation of the tax has been postponed with no specified date, as the government awaits an EU framework to facilitate its rollout. The EU Tobacco Tax Directive update is expected to include an EU-wide excise tax on vaping products.

Inline with the above, Landl highlighted that taxing vaping products in the same way as cigarettes would have a negative impact on public health by potentially pushing vapers back to smoking or the black market, while discouraging smokers from making the switch. He recommends that other countries and the EU follow Ireland’s example and refrain from implementing vape taxes.

The Public Health (Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill
Meanwhile, as of December 21st a new law in Ireland makes it illegal to sell vapes to anyone under the age of 18. Health Minister Stephen Donnelly gained Cabinet approval for the measure, which carries a penalty of a fine up to €4,000 and a prison sentence of up to six months for violations. This age restiction is part of the Public Health (Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill which also prohibits the sale of tobacco and nicotine products at events for children and the self-service sale of such items.

In addition to the ban on sales to minors, the legislation introduces a strict licensing system, prohibits advertisements for these products around schools and on public transport, and grants additional enforcement powers to the Environmental Health Service. The comprehensive measures aim to address smoking and vaping among adults, whilst protecting minors.

Health Minister Donnelly expressed gratitude for the support in passing the bill and committed to commencing the remaining measures which are part of the bill (namely the advertising regulation and licensing system) in 2024. He added that the results of a public consultation on further vape and tobacco control measures will be addressed.

What actually works
Meanwhile, countries such as Sweden and the UK have achieved low smoking rates through successful tobacco harm reduction strategies, which support the use of safer nicotine alternatives such as snus and vapes.

The availability and promotion of less harmful alternatives, coupled with educational campaigns, have played a crucial role in these countries’ success. This approach acknowledges that nicotine itself is not the primary harm, focusing instead on reducing the risks associated with combustible tobacco use.