Panama: Supreme Court Reverses Vape Ban

The Panamanian Supreme Court of Justice has ruled unanimously that Panama’s ban on the sale of all vape products is unconstitutional. The ruling, announced last week, came in response to a lawsuit brought by the Asociación por la Reducción de Daños del Tabaquismo de Panamá (ARDT Panama), a vaping consumer advocacy group.

Law 315 prohibited the sale and import of all vaping and heated tobacco products, with or without nicotine. The law also banned online sales, prohibited vaping in any place where smoking is not allowed, and gave customs authorities the right to inspect, detain and seize shipments into the Central American country.

The law passed the National Assembly in 2021, and was given assent by Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo nearly a year later, on June 30, 2022. Panama had previously prohibited vape sales under a 2014 health ministry decree.

The ARDT Panama lawsuit challenged the vape ban on the basis that it violated the constitutional right to health (depriving people who smoke of a lower-risk substitute), and also alleged that the National Assembly violated technical parliamentary rules in passing the law. The legal challenge was also supported by the Association of Smokers and Families for a Smoke-Free Panama and the Medicinal Cannabis Association of Panama, according to El Capital Financiero.

The court found that Law 315 violated parliamentary procedures spelled out in article 170 of the Panamanian constitution, according to Panama America. It’s unclear if the high court also weighed in on the health-based challenge.

More than a dozen Latin American and Caribbean countries have vape bans, including Brazil and Mexico. Brazil, the most populous Latin American country, recently decided to maintain and strengthen its ban.

Panama hosted this year’s meeting of Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) member countries, known as COP 10.