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Industry leaders in Latin America fear COP10 impact on tobacco alternatives

Leaders of vaping associations in Latin America have told TobaccoIntelligence they anticipate further restrictions and reinforced regional bans on tobacco alternative products to result from the tenth Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which starts in Panama today.

Vaping association leaders in Mexico, Panama and Argentina – where sales, distribution and consumption of e-cigarettes have been banned in some form in recent years – have told TobaccoIntelligence they expect conversations at the COP10-MOP3 (third session of the Meeting of the Parties to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products) conference to centre around stricter enforcement of tobacco alternative products in Latin America and a possible change in regulation that would equate the usage/consumption of tobacco smoke and e-cigarette vapour in the eyes of the law.

“In Latin America, I’m told regional health officials will continue to promote prohibitions – using the logic that where vaping is already prohibited in the region, it should remain banned,” Juan José Cirión, director of the association Mexico and the Vaping World (MexVap), told TobaccoIntelligence.

Cirión said other Latin American countries, such as Peru and Colombia, are also considering enforcing new bans for tobacco alternatives similar to Mexico, Argentina, Panama, Venezuela and Brazil, where their distribution and sales are prohibited nationwide.


Equating vapes with tobacco


He added that the countries participating in the COP10 conference may also seek to adjust regulations to equate the usage/consumption of tobacco smoke and e-cigarette vapour.

This would make vaping products equivalent to cigarettes, which would allow for their uniform regulation and make it easier to promote restrictions that apply to both traditional combustion and vaping, Cirión said.

In Mexico, there continues to be hope that the presidential decree that banned vape use in the country will be replaced with a regulatory framework to govern the industry. Cirión added that, since the nationwide ban in 2022, the country’s black market for e-cigarettes has proliferated.

He also said he and members of vaping advocacy associations will be in Panama to participate in the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) conference, which will be held concurrently with COP10 and aims to present the industry’s counter-arguments.


Reinforcement of bans


In Panama, where the Central American nation’s Supreme Court will soon debate a lawsuit that claims the country’s 2022 ban on vape use is unconstitutional, members of the Panama Association for the Reduction of Damage by Tobacco Use (ARDTP) say they too expect regional leaders to seek more restrictions at the COP10 conference.

“What we have heard is that a central theme will be the reinforcement of the ban on the tobacco alternatives,” the ARDTP told TobaccoIntelligence. “In countries where there are lower socioeconomic levels, such as in Latin America, we’re told the alternative tobacco products that exist to reduce damages will face continued or stricter bans.”

In Argentina, leaders of the national vapers association Asovape say the country’s health ministry has been “hermetic” in disclosing its plans for the COP10-MOP3 conference.

In March 2023, the Argentinian Ministry of Health issued a decree to prohibit the import, distribution, sales and promotion of heated tobacco products, while the sale and promotion of vapes has been banned in the country since a ruling by the National Administration of Drugs, Foods and Medical Devices (Anmat) in 2011. While the use and consumption of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco devices in Argentina are legal, their sale and promotion are prohibited.

A representative for Asovape told TobaccoIntelligence that the recent proposal to ban disposable vapes in the UK ahead of the COP10 conference is likely a sign that international leaders will seek further restrictions on tobacco alternatives on a global level, which would likely mean stricter regulation in Latin America.

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    WHO statements


    On 14th December 2023, the WHO released a statement that called for “urgent action to control electronic cigarettes to protect children, as well as non-smokers and minimise health harms to the population”.

    “E-cigarettes as consumer products are not shown to be effective for quitting tobacco use at the population level. Instead, alarming evidence has emerged on adverse population health effects,” the WHO statement reads.

    The statement adds that 34 countries ban the sale of e-cigarettes, whereas 88 countries have no minimum age at which e-cigarettes can be purchased, and 74 countries have no regulations in place for tobacco alternative products.

    The WHO statement calls for countries with an existing ban to “strengthen implementation of the ban and continue monitoring and surveillance to support public health interventions and ensure strong enforcement”.

    It also encouraged countries where e-cigs are sold to “ensure strong regulations to reduce their appeal and their harm to the population, including banning all flavours, limiting the concentration and quality of nicotine, and taxing them”.

    In a press conference on 16th January, Rüdiger Krech, director of health promotion at the WHO, said “there are a few countries that have banned e-cigarettes, which we welcome”.

    “If you have not banned e-cigarettes,” Krech said, “you should take very strong regulatory measures, meaning that you need to ensure that children do not get access to e-cigarettes.”


    Main points of discussion


    Latin American vaping industry leaders say the recent WHO statements, as well as continued efforts by the organisation to combat e-cig use, are likely indicators of the central topics that will be discussed during the conference. Representatives for each country attending the COP10 conference can be found on an official list.

    “It’s hard to know exactly what will be the main agenda of the COP10,” Cirión said. “Though it would appear that making cigarette smoke and alternative product vapors equivalent, as well as further bans, will be the main points of discussion.”

    The COP10 is taking place in Panama City, Panama, from 5th to 10th February.

    The original conference scheduled for November 2023 was postponed amid nationwide protests in Panama over a government mining concession awarded to a Canadian company.

    – Adam Williams TobaccoIntelligence contributing writer

    Photo: Keiron Crasktellanos

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    This article was written by one of TobaccoIntelligence’s international correspondents. We currently employ more than 40 reporters around the world to cover individual nicotine markets.

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