Nope vape, do not heat tobacco, but do not smoke either. The President of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, signed a decree on Tuesday that prohibits the “circulation and marketing” of vapers and electronic cigarettes. First, the Government vetoed the importation of these devices, a measure later overturned by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation. Later, other institutions joined the battle. A few weeks ago, the Senate approved the General Import and Export Tax Law, with which these products were once again prohibited from being legally imported, since currently neither vapers nor heaters are produced in the country. Today, finally, the president has prohibited its legal sale.
The decision was also adopted after the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risks (Cofepris) declared a maximum health alert because of the health risks posed by all forms of alternative products to tobacco. Additionally, the Ministry of the Interior and local entities have launched several campaigns to locate and seize these devices in at least a dozen states.
These alerts and now the measures adopted have encouraged a debate about the risks of entering the black market of vaporizers that arrive in the country as contraband. “We are leaving distribution in the hands of the black market, instead of allowing some companies to import them, pay taxes and salaries, we are leaving this issue in informality and illegality,” said Senator Luis Ortiz during the discussion of the law of taxes.
Although the legal market for tobacco vaporizers or heaters had grown in the country, it was still a tiny fraction compared to that of conventional cigarettes. Philip Morris International, one of the marketers of these alternatives, went from having 35,000 to nearly 42,000 users of tobacco heaters. At the same time, in the last five years, the tobacco industry increased its sales from 878 to 1,246 million pesos a year, according to INEGI estimates. Globally, the use of nicotine alternatives is growing rapidly, increasing in value as users change preferences.
At the same time, the illegal tobacco market represents 19% of the total market, according to a study carried out by the Confederation of Industrial Chambers of Mexico. Between 2019 and 2020, although there was an increase in tobacco taxes due to the Special Tax on Products and Services (IEPS), the collection contracted due to the trade in counterfeit tobacco products.
One of the arguments that was given to ban any type of vaporizer device, whether it is products with or without nicotine, is that various flavorings are used to “hook children and adolescents who will later be consumers of other drugs”, Senator Lilia Valdez said before the law’s approval.
Andrea Constantine, head of scientific relations for Latin America and Canada at Philip Morris International, assures that the ban in general creates more channels for minors to access unregulated products. “Prohibitions only lead to a greater amount of illicit, lack of control, black market and not knowing what the population consumes, especially for minors, who acquire products through channels where there is no control,” he says. her in interview
Regulation or total prohibition
According to data from various marketers of alternative products with and without nicotine, these products contain up to 95% less substances harmful to health, causing Chronic Occlusive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and various types of cancer. Despite this, the United Nations (UN) has been emphatic in saying that, although it can be an alternative for existing smokers, it is not about products that are exempt from causing damage to health.
The main argument of the companies that market alternative products to tobacco is that, unlike cigarettes, they do not need combustion to work. Several health regulatory bodies in the world have used this argument to regulate it, including the UK Public Health Agencythe Food and Drug Administration (FDA, for its acronym in English) of the United States and the New Zealand Ministry of Health. “The decision must be made based on scientific evidence, not on dogmas or ignorance of the alternatives,” says Constantini.
Although not in all the countries where it has been regulated has it been possible to protect adolescents from the consumption of prohibited substances. In the United States, where the FDA has regulated electronic cigarettes since 2016, it is estimated that just over two million young people between the ages of 14 and 17 vape.
For the regulated industry, leaving minors out is not the discussion, but rather an option for adults that must leave out the black market of cigarettes. “It is essential to regulate so that quality products are available to adults who already smoke, while protecting minors and people who do not smoke, keeping them away from harmful tobacco smoke,” concludes Constantini.
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