Portugal Undermines Smoking Cessation Efforts With New Vape Restrictions

While a set of sensible vape regulations were already in place, the Portuguese Government may be taking it a step to far with the newly proposed restrictions.

The new draft law No. 88/XV seeks to extend smoke-free area restrictions to vaping products, hence prohibiting vaping in outdoor spaces where smoking is not allowed. Tobacco harm reduction (THR) experts argue that such measures undermine efforts by former smokers who have turned to vapes in order to quit smoking. The proposed bill also aims to impose stricter regulations on the sale of vaping products, including a ban on online sales.

A GSTHR facts page reveals that there are approximately 8,300 vapers in Portugal. Until now, nicotine vapes had been permitted, resulting in an adult vaping prevalence of 0.09%. The products had already been regulated with sales limited to individuals aged 18 and above, packaging requiring health warnings and specific requirements with regards to nicotine content.

Moreover, while one can buy vapes without a prescription, there are already restrictions in place with regards to using them in public spaces. Vaping in indoor public spaces and certain outdoor areas had been banned to protect non-users from second hand vapour. While, advertising and promoting vaping products have been subject to limitations in order to prevent their appeal to young people.

According to the State Budget proposal, in 2024 tobacco tax will be extended even to nicotine-free electronic cigarettes in 2024. The increase in tobacco tax is believed to amount to 176.6 million euros in revenue.

Moving forward or backwards?
The World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) highlighted that implementing these measures would be a regression to the current situation. One which is not evidence based likely resulting in detering smokers from switching to safer alternatives, while pushing many vapers back to smoking.

Israel’s recently announced Smoking Action Plan is being similarly questioned. The proposed plan sets in place reasonable regulations on cigarettes, such as raising the minimum smoking age from 18 to 21 and placing graphic warnings on cigarette packs. However, it also includes less reasonable restrictions on vaping products. These include a ban on flavoured vapes, setting nicotine limits, a ban on disposables and a tax equal to the one on cigarettes.

THR experts have emphasized the importance of a balanced and evidence-based approach that distinguishes vaping from traditional smoking. WVA Director Michael Landl, said that while he appreciates the government’s commitment to reducing smoking rates in Israel, he believes that the plan could inadvertently have a negative impact on public health.

He highlighted that the fight against smoking should involve strategies that acknowledge the significant differences between vaping and smoking. Vaping has been shown to be 95% less harmful than smoking and is considered one of the most effective tools for smoking cessation.

Higher cigarette abstinence rates in vapers
Landl refers to a recent US study, where researchers at the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center found that individuals using vaping products had higher abstinence rates from smoking compared to those who did not. The study’s lead author, Matthew Carpenter, emphasized that those who used vapes also demonstrated reduced harm levels.

In light of these findings, the WVA once again calls on policymakers to carefully consider the unintended consequences of treating vaping the same as smoking. Landl mentions the successful examples set by countries like Sweden and the United Kingdom, which have embraced harm reduction through sensible regulations for safer nicotine alternatives. He argues that to achieve a smoke-free future, it’s essential to foster a comprehensive harm reduction strategy that recognizes vaping’s potential to save lives. Tailored vaping regulations can ensure that smokers have effective alternatives, and encourage them to switch to less harmful options.