Latvian Leaders Asleep at the Wheel When it Comes to Harm Reduction
Latvia is trying to pass a bill restricting the use of tobacco harm-reduction products like nicotine pouches and vaping. It’s just another example of more short-sighted madness from lawmakers across the EU.
The Social and Labor Affairs Commission of the Saeima (the Republic of Latvia’s Parliament) met at the start of March to discuss a second reading of a bill that will prohibit the sale of both tobacco and harm-reduction products to people under 20 years of age.
Another dimension of the bill will examine the legal marketing of e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches that contain flavourings. Additionally, Saeima will look at tobacco and nicotine devices that resemble sweets, snacks, toys, and more.
Commission chairperson Inga Bērziņa has given the usual spiel about protecting young people from nicotine-containing products, failing to distinguish the difference between items that contain tobacco and those that don’t.
Some of the restrictions the bill is calling for are relatively standard, such as:
• Smoking bans in public places
• Restrictions on sales and advertising
• Sponsorships restrictions
• Tobacco and alternative products packaging restrictions
• E-liquid tank size limits
What to make of this proposed law
Anyone familiar with the EU’s TPD regulations will be reasonably familiar with Latvia’s current and proposed restrictions. Latvia transposed these laws in 2016, but it’s pushing for further regulations. In effect, they want rules which align with close neighbours Estonia and Lithuania.
However, introducing a flavour ban for nicotine pouches and e-liquids is a colossal mistake.
Why flavour bans for harm-reduction products are a terrible idea
Flavour bans that target vapes and nicotine pouches are bad policies. Unfortunately, they are growing in popularity among lawmakers who are not just out of touch with their constituents but also with the science on the issues.
The argument usually relies on three questionable assumptions.
#1. There is a vaping epidemic among young adults
#2. Vaping and nicotine pouches are gateways to smoking
#3. Flavours are what cause people to vape or use nicotine pouches
Then, as the “logic” goes, banning flavour means you cut off the gateway at the source.
Of course, logic, like any system, is subject to the truism of “garbage in, garbage out.”
While lawmakers and technocrats are well-intentioned, they rely on a poor understanding of the issues. Without the fundamentals in place, they are vulnerable to making grave decisions.
The three assumptions that form the pillars of these arguments are never really supported with facts or research.
Dismantling the assumptions
Pulling apart these assumptions is as simple as tugging at the thread.
There is no youth vaping epidemic, at least not in the sense of what epidemic means. At worst, a couple of percent of youths are using e-cigarettes occasionally. But how many would smoke cigarettes if vaping and nicotine pouches were unavailable?
Secondly, if harm-reduction products were a gateway to smoking, why is the smoking rate among youths at an all-time low?
Finally, where is the evidence that suggests flavours — and not nicotine — are the reason people vape? Sure, they might make the product more attractive, but that’s not to mean flavours are instrumental.
The consequences of harm reduction product bans
Banning flavourings for harm reduction will make the products less appealing to audiences of every age. However, it will also push people back to tobacco.
Nicotine addiction doesn’t just solve itself. Banning harm-reduction products to solve an “epidemic” that doesn’t exist is madness, mainly when it results in rising smoking rates and cases of cancer.
Latvia is not unique here. Plenty of countries have unsophisticated understandings of tobacco alternatives. Protecting lives means getting in touch with your politicians or friends and spreading the word about the benefits of alternative nicotine products like vaping or nicotine pouches. Keeping these products on the market will save lives.
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