Joseph Hart 30 June 2023

 

Italian politics has always been a bit of a punchline. At its worst, it lurches from scandal to farce and back again, like some outrageous and occasionally ribald pantomime. Well, here’s more fuel for the fire: they’re trying to ban the online sale of nicotine pouches and vaping e-liquids.

The situation in Italy

Giorgia Meloni took power in 2022 after the protracted Italian government crisis. As the leader of the controversial Brothers of Italy, a core part of her campaign centred around less EU bureaucracy. 

Presumably, she intended to replace it with some good old Italian bureaucracy of her own because, despite no one asking for it, her government is trying to ban the online sale of nicotine pouches.

The situation is a little complex. I’ll try to break it down as simply as I can. 

The Italian Congress is currently examining an existing bill called Bill (1038). Ostensibly, this work is about revising Italy’s tax system. Currently, that system is a bit of a mess. Treasury data suggests that tax evasion costs the country around €90 billion per year.

There are a raft of proposed changes, including cutting income tax, simplifying tax codes, and even a provision that removes the risk of criminal convictions for tax evasion if individuals settle arrears and catch up on payments. However, what we need to pay attention to is the Treasury’s desire to generate more tax.   

How does that affect nicotine pouches?

, Italy Moves to Ban Online Nicotine Pouches Sales, The Daily Pouch
Nicotine pouches that sit in the users upper lip

As noted above, one part of the move is about recouping lost taxes Euros from online sales. As ever with Italian politics, we must go back a bit further to truly understand this.

In 2021, the governmental position on nicotine pouches was that they were illegal unless they were registered as a medicinal product. However, that same year, a number of Zyn pouches were seized in Rome. The manufacturer, Swedish Match, said their company did not currently serve the market due to a lack of regulatory clarity. The government concluded that the products were being imported.

The following year saw some movement toward rules permitting the sale of nicotine pouches. The Italian Senate approved a bill that required six months’ notice before a product hit the market. These notices must be served to the Ministry of Health and the Customs and Monopolies Agency (ADM). They also had a tax rate of €22 per kg attached, which came into effect in January 2023.

However, the regulations stopped short of the type of restrictions EU nicotine pouch users have come to expect. There were no provisions for advertising, health warnings, ingredients, etc. However, it was expected that the Customs and Monopolies Agency (ADM) would address that in time.

That uncertain environment meant that many manufacturers sat on the sidelines or chose to serve the market from abroad. The new tax bill will block this route, with the government citing its intention to hit the illicit market and protect tax revenues and consumer health.

Conclusion

Italian health institute, the ISS, suggests about 24% of Italians are current smokers. However, the country is using tax laws to ban the online sale of nicotine pouches and e-liquids. 

A lack of regulatory clarity means that serving the Italian market was undesirable for many nicotine pouch manufacturers. Regulatory measures implemented in 2022 put several hurdles in place for anyone who wanted to offer the harm reduction product. One popular pathway for nicotine pouch users was to buy online. 

Now, long-distance and cross-border sales look likely to be banned. This action will leave Italian ex-smokers without a crucial harm-reduction product.

Context: Italy’s Relationship with Online Sales and Health Regulations
Italy has always been somewhat cautious when it comes to consumer products and health regulations, with a particular focus on tobacco and nicotine products. Over the past few years, e-cigarettes and other vaping products have become increasingly popular worldwide, with many smokers using them as a tool for harm reduction. The online market has played a significant role in the ascent of these products, providing smokers with a convenient and accessible avenue to purchase them. The proposed regulation of online sales of nicotine pouches and vaping e-liquids comes as a bit of surprise, given that this sector represented a key point of sales for these products. This is seen as the Italian government’s attempt to regulate a significant and growing market, protect public health, and ensure tax revenues are not lost to foreign manufacturers or the black market. Alongside debates on tax reforms and economic renewal, the proposed ban testifies to the complexity of the ongoing political and social dynamics in Italy.

Context: Italy’s Relationship with Online Sales and Health Regulations

Italy has always been somewhat cautious when it comes to consumer products and health regulations, with a particular focus on tobacco and nicotine products. Over the past few years, e-cigarettes and other vaping products have become increasingly popular worldwide, with many smokers using them as a tool for harm reduction. The online market has played a significant role in the ascent of these products, providing smokers with a convenient and accessible avenue to purchase them. The proposed regulation of online sales of nicotine pouches and vaping e-liquids comes as a bit of surprise, given that this sector represented a key point of sales for these products. This is seen as the Italian government’s attempt to regulate a significant and growing market, protect public health, and ensure tax revenues are not lost to foreign manufacturers or the black market. Alongside debates on tax reforms and economic renewal, the proposed ban testifies to the complexity of the ongoing political and social dynamics in Italy.