E-cigarettes and paraphernalia will only be sold in tobacconists in Austria, thanks to a new ruling from the Austrian Ministry of Health. The intention is to prevent children from buying vaping products, but critics, including the owner of one of Austria’s 50 specialist e-cigarette and vaping stores, have slammed the move as unenforceable.
The new law will be introduced via an amendment to the Tobacco Monopoly Law, and will state that e-cigarettes plus “nicotine-containing and other flavoured or non-flavoured liquids that can be vaporized in electronic cigarettes and refills,” will henceforth only be allowed to be sold in tobacconists, according to The Local. The wording of the amendment emphasises that e-cigs “are not toys”.
It is understood that the health ministry believes that e-cigs are more appealing to children, that they are a gateway to smoking, and that by regulating e-cigs they can reduce the ill health effects of smoking.
However, in an editorial by two experts on public health from University College London, Professor Robert West and Dr Jamie Brown dismissed all claims that e-cigs were harmful to health, increased rates of smoking or acted as a gateway product to smoking.
“Current e-cigarette use in young never-smokers is so rare that we cannot even test the idea that it could act as a gateway,” wrote Professor West in the editorial, published by the British Journal of General Practice.
The idea that e-cigs normalise smoking was also dismissed by the pair, who pointed out that, since the introduction of e-cigs, quitting rates have risen, and an overall fall in the number of smokers has also taken place. And they dismissed the idea that the evidence is not clear on whether or not e-cigs could be as dangerous as tobacco cigarettes as “alarmist” and “bizarre”, highlighting the fact that there are twenty times fewer harmful chemicals in vapour from e-cigs as there is in tobacco smoke.
Professor West said “I completely understand concerns about potential risks from this phenomenon but it is vital that public health experts separate opinion from evidence and present the latter as objectively as possible.”
Nonetheless, the World Health Organisation has recommended that governments ban e-cigs indoors, prohibit sales to those under 18, ban the use of vending machines and stop manufacturers from promoting e-cigs as a tool for helping smokers quit until there is more evidence to validate the claim. The European Union has also introduced measures so draconian on the manufacture of e-cigarettes that a British company are taking the Commission to court to test the lawfulness of the regulations.
“The harm outweighs the benefits – and so advertising, marketing, sponsorship, and sales of e-cigarettes should come with a warning and be regulated as rigorously as cigarettes,” said anti-smoking activist Manfred Neuberger.
The owner of a popular e-cigarette store NikoBlue told The Local that the new amendment was naïve, as tobacconists wouldn’t have either the expertise or the space to market the product competently and may lack the incentive to help users quit tobacco cigarettes.
“The e-Cigarette business in the EU is way too big to regulate at this stage. With more than 50 vaping stores in Austria, such a regulation is unlikely to be enforced. The argument isn’t about people’s health – it’s the tobacco monopoly looking after its revenues and government taxes,” she said.