Minister mulls banning single-use flavored e-cigarettes

e-cigarettes, regular cigarettes and other smoking-related paraphernalia.
e-cigarettes, regular cigarettes and other smoking-related paraphernalia. Source: ERR

Minister of Labor and Health Peep Peterson (SDE) has pledged quick measures to ensure that fewer novel tobacco products such as disposable, flavored e-cigarettes, fall into the hands of minors, following concerns raised by parents and educators.

Flavored e-cigarette "vaping" liquids and other have been banned for purchase from outside Estonia since 2019, though initially it had not been clear whether this ban applied to flavored additives sold separately for use in vaping (it does).

In reality, the restriction has not worked as it should have n any case, ERR reports, with disposable e-cigarettes, which can also be purchased from abroad increasing in popularity.

Minister of Social Affairs Peep Peterson (SDE) says he has no leverage on e-cigarette paraphernalia entering the country, even in the case of banned items, telling ERR's Madis Hindre that: "It is a classic role for customs to check and control commerce at the border."

Meanwhile Eerik Heldna, head of the Tax and Customs Board's (MTA) customs department said that the organization intercepts illicit tobacco products entering Estonia every day.

This does not mean that more will not get through, however.

Heldna said border checks: "Certainly do not comprehensively solve the social problem. Such a situation, where customs confiscates one hundred percent of illegal goods, no matter what the goods are, does not arise anywhere in the world," adding that demand-side measures are key.

Peep Peterson nonetheless says that the MTA could potentially succeed in stemming the flood of tobacco products, with Estonia's southern border with fellow EU and Schengen Area country Latvia likely to become more prominent given the virtual closure of the eastern border with Russia.

"If, in connection with the war in Ukraine, this closure will be practiced on the southern border, then maybe the MTA will also have to monitor a little more carefully what goods are being transported," the minister said.

Heldna said that the majority of illegal new tobacco products come to Estonia from another EU country, adding that for this reason, EU-level restrictions, such as those on heated tobacco products, will help.

"Any such EU-level measures, which start to diminish this market, especially among young people would be very welcome. They will alter this picture significantly more than just one or another successful procedural action," Heldna said.

Under current EU law, a ban on flavored cigarettes, which took menthol cigarettes and similar products off the market in Estonia, does not extend to flavored liquids to be used in vaping, potentially due to a theory that vaping helps wean people off tobacco cigarette smoking, Peterson said, though added that flavored liquids for use in e-cigarettes also have addictive aspects, as do single-use e-cigarettes, he said.

More legislation is likely to emanate from the social affairs ministry soon, to address the issue is single-use e-cigarettes, which have brought with them concern over their potential appeal to minors – who in some cases have been reprotedly picking up discarded e-cigarettes and using them.

"Hyopthetically, a decision to ban disposable vapes, or e-cigarettes, is on the table," the minister said, adding that retailers have not been at fault and are good at checking the age of customers where that would be appropriate.

Measures might include retailers having to take back used-up e-cigarettes, though there are also environmental considerations regarding disposal.

The disposable e-cigarette market is also booming, ERR reports, on the back of some slick marketing referring to "refreshing taste" etc., from 2.5 million sales of individual flavored e-cigarettes in 2020 in Estonia, to 35 million last year.

Another issue is lobbying, personified at the Riigikogu by Isamaa MP Tarmo Krussimäe, who puts forward multiple bills per year to reduce restrictions and excise duties, mainly with the argument (backed up with some empirical data too) that not doing so would lead to a flourishing black market.

The fact that e-cigarette products can be ordered online is one difference between it and classic tobacco smuggling, Eerik Heldna of the MTA added,

Heldna. "Perhaps a distributed, individual-based ordering system is of course much more important in this whole alternative tobacco economy."

Heldna said that the MTA is currently continuing to focus on checking for sanctioned goods arriving at the border.

In summer, flavored e-cigarette additive retailers asked for extra time on an impending restriction which followed clarification that a 2019 ban on flavored vaping products included flavored additives.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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