Put me down as “cautiously pessimistic”: that’s the prognosis I gave for regulation of novel nicotine products a few weeks ago at the Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) in Warsaw, where I was sitting on a panel nominally charged with discussing regulatory change in Australia and the Philippines.

Those two countries are a study in opposites – the former ever more resolutely opposed to these products, the latter seemingly striving to open up to tobacco harm reduction (the Philippines is even reducing the minimum purchase age for e-cigarettes and heated tobacco). And so the discussion at GFN inevitably led to the bigger question of which direction regulation in general will follow, globally.

Participants’ opinions were mixed, but I tended to the cautiously negative for several reasons: renewed attention in the media and elsewhere to the supposed perils of reduced-risk products and particularly the confusion over the dangers of nicotine; the uptake of vaping by minors; and the environmental concerns over disposables.

Set against these things, which are perceived as real and present dangers even when they’re not (notably in the case of nicotine), the argument for THR can seem rather an abstract one.

Its proponents can come across as saying that instead of banning or restricting things because they do harm, we should allow them on the basis that they do less harm than might otherwise have been done. That’s tough to reduce to a soundbite.

So, I said, while I didn’t expect melodramatic change – no sweeping total bans in major markets, for example – I did expect things to get tougher. Restrictions on product characteristics, on retail and on marketing might tighten, for example. And countries undecided which way to swing might be more inclined to head in an Australian than a Filipino direction.

Was I wrong, though? An analysis of recent updates to our Policy Radar product, which tracks the current regulatory frameworks and makes five-year forecasts for a broad selection of leading vapour and novel tobacco markets globally, suggests there are more bright spots on the horizon than might have been expected.

Support for harm reduction could grow in the European Parliament after its next elections, for example. Finland, Argentina and Thailand may also find that election results are favourable to novel nicotine. And in France, the health minister has spoken of public funding for vaping.

This is not the whole story, of course. The very same report discussed higher taxes, a disposables ban, and a flavour ban in different countries.

But perhaps the regulatory future for novel nicotine products, looked at on a global level, is not so much one of tighter and tighter rules as one of greater and greater polarisation between the pros and the antis?

– Barnaby Page TobaccoIntelligence staff

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