The Italian E-Cig Market Seems to be Recovering Despite Harsh Restrictions

A recent drop in vape taxes seems to be effecting the local vape market positively, despite restrictions on vaping set last year.

In 2023, Italian Health Minister Orazio Schillaci revealed comprehensive measures to combat local smoking rates. Addressing the Social Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies, Schillaci outlined strategies aligned with the European Cancer Plan‘s objective of creating a ‘tobacco-free generation.’

The Minister had explained that the multifaceted plan aimed to protect citizens’ health, with a focus on restricting smoking in open-air spaces, curbing smoking in the presence of minors, and extending the ban on smoking rooms in enclosed premises. The proposed measures included an extension of the ban on smoking in open-air areas when minors and pregnant women are present, as well as a ban on placing smoking rooms within closed premises.

Sadly however, the proposed restrictions had been extended to vaping products and heated tobacco devices. Minister Schillaci emphasized the need to address the escalating prevalence of new tobacco and nicotine products, saying that the emerging evidence of potential health risks associated with these products must be considered. To this effect, the Minister included new nicotine products in the existing advertising ban on cigarettes.

Ignoring science
Unfortunately this is another case where the science and real-world data in favour of using novel nicotine products for smoking cessation, are being fully ignored. The report accompanying the announcement had indicated a rise in heated tobacco cigarette users (3.3%) and e-cigarette users (2.4%), suggesting a shifting landscape of smoking preferences. Notably at the time, 36.6% considered heated tobacco products less harmful than traditional cigarettes, contributing to their growing popularity. Sadly the Minister considered these data alarming.

World Vapers’ Alliance director Michael Landl, had highlighted that these measures contradict scientific evidence of the positive impact of vaping on fighting tobacco. Only a few months earlier, the WVA had presented the Italian government with a 7-step strategy during a press conference in Rome, where the new government was receiving a confidence vote in the Parliament.

Meanwhile Ministry of Health data estimates over 93,000 smoking-related deaths annually in Italy, with associated costs exceeding €26 billion. Smoking accounts for 20.6% of male deaths and 7.9% of female deaths. Minister Schillaci has previously stressed the importance of aligning national efforts with EU directives, emphasizing the ministry’s intent to transpose the EU Commission’s delegated directive, eliminating exemptions related to heated tobacco products by July 23, 2023.

The numbers speak for themselves
Meanwhile, data from countries endorsing the use of safer nicotine alternatives for smoking cessation, such as Sweden and the UK, indicate that these are actually the only ones which have successfully managed to bring local smoking rates down to significant lows. In contrast, countries maintaining harsh vape laws, such as Australia, are still struggling with high smoking rates.

Last March, Italian ministers responded with rage to Schillaci’s proposals, with the right-wing Cabinet colleagues calling him a “communist.” Reuters revealed that Junior Culture Minister Vittorio Sgarbi, said that such bans would only encourage people to smoke more. “This is something typical of an authoritarian and dictatorial communist regime,” he said.

While Deputy Prime Minister and League party leader Matteo Salvini, a former smoker himself said that the open-air ban on vapes is “exaggerated.” “Electronic cigarettes are helping a lot of people to abandon regular cigarettes,” he added on Twitter.

How are Italy’s taxes?
With regards to local vape taxes, uncertainty had reigned in recent years, as the  government has changed the rate a number of times, seemingly at random at almost every budget.

A €0.40/mL tax introduced in 2014 had nearly doubled the price of e-liquids and forced many vapers to go back to smoking or resort to obtaining the products on the black market. This of course had a great impact on the local industry, shrinking it from approximately 4,000 businesses to about 1,000.

In 2016, a parliamentary intergroup had pointed out that e-liquids should have brought a revenue of €85 million into the country, as opposed to the €5 million collected by the Department of Finance. According to group member Sebastian Barbanti, the ridiculous prices had driven consumers to the foreign market. Since then local authorities have gone back and forth, reducing and increasing the tax numerous times.

In 2018, the consumption tax on e-liquids was reduced by a significant 90% on non-nicotine-containing products, and 80% on the nicotine containing types. While a new tax rate gone into effect on April 1st 2023, has lowered the tax rate to the level set in 2021, repealing a scheduled hike that came into effect in January 2022.

This means that the current tax rate on nicotine-containing e-liquids has dropped from €0.175 per milliliter (US dollar equivalent: $0.19) to €0.13, and the tax on the non-nicotine containing types dropped from €0.13/ml to €0.08.

Italy’s vape market expanded between 2022 and 2023
This tax decrease may have revived the local industry, as ECigIntelligence recently revealed that between 2022 and 2023, there was a notable expansion in the Italian  market, solidifying its position as one of the prominent vape markets in Europe. What sets it apart from other major European markets is its heavy reliance on brick-and-mortar vape stores.

In fact, the local regulatory landscape for the online market may be posing a potential obstacle to the growth of online sales. Last August online sales of nicotine-containing products where banned.

Despite a significant uptick in the popularity of disposable products, open system devices continue to dominate the market in Italy, with a discernible shift towards simpler devices. This may have been indicated in a 2021 report, “Vaping Consumer Survey Report: Expenditure on Hardware Decreases in Italy” which analysed patterns of hardware and e-liquid usage among vapers in Italy, and found that vapers were spending less on hardware.