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Exploring the Legal Landscape of E-cigarettes and Vapes

— December 7, 2023

The legal landscape for e-cigarettes and vapes is changing as regulators attempt to reconcile public health concerns, underage use, commercial interests, and taxation challenges.

The growing popularity of e-cigarettes and vapes has prompted a flood of legislative responses from governments around the world. In this article, we’ll look at how vaping regulation is changing, the effects vaping has on youth and public health, and the responsibilities of essential industries.

The evolution of vaping regulation

Since the introduction of vaping and e-cigarettes, there has been a significant global shift in vaping regulations. In the early days, there was little regulation, but as public knowledge increased, regulatory bodies worldwide acted. 

Regulating e-cigarettes became a global trend as a result of safety concerns. To protect children from potential health dangers, for example, several nations have outlawed the sale of electronic cigarettes and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) to those under a specific age. 

Global efforts also resulted in rules that expanded control over all tobacco-related goods, including e-cigarettes, and mandated ingredient reporting to regulatory authorities, product registration, and health warnings on packaging and advertising.

E-cigarettes and youth: legal challenges in preventing underage use

Preventing underage use of e-cigarettes is a major challenge, mainly due to the appeal of flavored e-cigarettes among young people. These products often come in sweet or fruity scents that appeal to youth, increasing their use among this demographic.

Given the potential health risks associated with e-cigarette usage and the susceptibility of young people to nicotine addiction, there have been widespread calls for stricter regulations, especially around flavored products. Many parts of the world have been proactive regarding this issue.

In 2023 in Australia, for example, there has been a significant push for stricter regulations surrounding e-cigarettes. Nicotine vapes can only be purchased at a pharmacy with a prescription, and soon, an import permit will be required to bring e-cigarettes (with or without nicotine) into the country. Flavors and colors are restricted, and all single-use disposable vapes are banned.

Unfortunately, enforcing these laws can be difficult, especially with online sales where age verification can be easily bypassed. There are also concerns about the black market and illegal sales of these products to minors. As such, comprehensive strategies and strong enforcement mechanisms will be needed to protect young people from the harms associated with e-cigarette use. 

Vaping products and health concerns

The health implications of vaping products have been a subject of intense scrutiny and debate. When e-cigarettes first entered the market, they were touted as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes. Indeed, many smokers turned to these devices to reduce their nicotine dependence or mitigate the health risks associated with smoking.

However, over time, concerns have increased about the potential health risks of e-cigarettes. While they may expose users to fewer toxicants than conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are not risk-free. They still deliver nicotine, a highly addictive substance, and can also expose users to harmful substances such as heavy metals and volatile organic compounds.

In response to these concerns, America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now requires companies to submit a Premarket Tobacco Product Application (PMTA) for each of their e-cigarette products, whether existing or new. This process involves reviewing the product’s health risks, appeal to youth, and potential benefits to smokers trying to quit.

The role of tobacco and pharmaceutical industries

The tobacco and pharmaceutical industries have their interests and influence in the e-cigarette scene.

As smoking rates began to fall, Big Tobacco was quick to jump on the promise of e-cigarettes (almost a decade ago). Major tobacco corporations such as Altria, British American Tobacco, and Imperial Brands also invested significantly in vaping, hoping that these products would offset declining cigarette sales.

In contrast, the pharmaceutical industry sees e-cigarettes as a threat. These companies contend that, unlike licensed nicotine replacement medicines, e-cigarettes are not safe and effective in aiding individuals in quitting smoking.

Through lobbying, these sectors have a significant influence on vaping legislation. They advocate for policies that benefit their interests, which can occasionally conflict with public health goals.

E-cigarette taxation and revenue

Various taxing schemes have been implemented by governments around the world to discourage vaping, particularly among young people, while simultaneously earning cash. 

In the United States, 16 states have applied particular taxes on e-cigarettes. Colorado, for example, levies a 50% tax on the manufacturer’s list price. This is expected to increase to 67% by 2027. 

In 2022, Indiana imposed a 15% tax on the gross income earned by merchants from vaping products, suggesting a different approach to taxing e-cigarettes based on retailer revenue rather than product quantities or nicotine content. 

Traditional tobacco products are taxed on a “unit” basis at the federal level, with a tax of $50.33 levied on every 1,000 units of cigarettes. However, an equivalent standard strategy to e-cigarettes has yet to be established. 

These taxes reflect regulators’ challenges in balancing public health concerns with potential revenue benefits. While high taxes can deter use, especially among price-sensitive groups like youth, they also generate essential funds that can be used for public health initiatives.

Vaping bans and restrictions

Teens are Influenced by Their Parents' Smoking, Vaping Habits
Photo by Rusian Alekso from Pexels

To address public health concerns, global governments have introduced prohibitions and limitations on vaping in addition to taxing. These regulations frequently restrict the use of e-cigarettes in private workplaces, restaurants, and bars.

Some have gone even further, prohibiting the sale and use of vaping products entirely. In 2023, more than 40 countries have imposed some type of ban on vaping, either on possession and use, sales, importation, or a combination. Some places have concentrated on limiting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, which are especially enticing to young people.

These bans and limits, however, are not without debate. Critics claim they will drive people back to traditional cigarettes or create a black market for vaping products. Regulators, like tax collectors, must protect public health against the possibility of unintended consequences.

Summing up

The legal landscape for e-cigarettes and vapes is changing as regulators attempt to reconcile public health concerns, underage use, commercial interests, and taxation challenges. While these actions are for the greater good of public health, they are not without debate. So, consumers, producers, and politicians must stay informed and engaged to strike a balance between diverse interests.

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