E-cigarettes and vaping to be restricted in Austria

The Austrian Ministry of Health has just announced that it plans to impose restrictions on the sale of e-cigarettes and related products, including limiting their sale exclusively through tobacconists.

E-cigarettes and vaping to be restricted in Austria
Photo: APA (Archiv/epa)
E-cigarettes and related products will in future be sold in Austria only in tobacconists.  This was announced on Thursday by the Ministry of Health. There is a corresponding amendment to the Tobacco Monopoly Law being sent to the National Council for review. The amendment is expected to lead to a preventive effect. 
According to the amendment, electronic cigarettes, including e-shisha as well as "nicotine-containing and other flavored or non-flavored liquids that can be vaporized in electronic cigarettes and refills" may in future only be sold at registered tobacco shops.
The new law regulates the distribution of such products, emphasizing that they "are not toys."  Critics believe that the measure is because the new generation of e-cigarettes and vaping requisites is much more attractive to children, and the health ministry is attempting to reduce the health effects related to cigarette smoking, thinking that vaping is a gateway to greater tobacco use. 
In February, the European Parliament passed regulations requiring standardization and quality control for liquids and vaporizers, disclosure of ingredients in liquids, and child-proofing and tamper-proofing for liquid packaging.
In July, The World Health Organization (WHO) released a report recommending governments ban the use of electronic cigarettes indoors, manufacturers be restricted from claiming e-cigarettes aid smoking cessation until they have robust evidence to validate the claim, prohibit sales to people under 18, and ban the use of vending machines. 
"The harm outweighs the benefits – and so advertising, marketing, sponsorship, and sales of e-cigarettes should come with a warning and be regulated as rigorously as cigarettes,” preventative medicine specialist and anti-smoking activist Manfred Neuberger said.
However, researchers from University College London recently said that warnings over e-cigarettes are alarmist – and increasing their use could save many lives.  The researchers and Clive Bates, former director of ASH UK, stated that electronic cigarettes use has been growing rapidly and that no proof of serious health risks has emerged, and asserted that misguided regulatory action could interfere with a safe substitute for smoking.
When contacted for comment, a representative of the Ministry of Health said they had acted due to concerns over school-age children who were buying the e-cigarettes and smoking them in schools.
The owner of a popular e-cigarette store told The Local that Austrian tobacconists lack the experience, knowledge and room for the wide range of vaping products and flavours to be able to handle the products, and would lack the incentive to help wean regular smokers off tobacco.  
"The e-Cigarette business in the EU is way too big to regulate at this stage.  With more than 50 vaping stores in Austria, such a regulation is unlikely to be enforced.  The argument isn't about people's health — it's the tobacco monopoly looking after its revenues and government taxes," she said. 
A Facebook group has been created in Austria which is calling for a demonstration by vapers against the new regulation on October 25th at 2:30 pm in front of the Parliament.

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Austria tiring of being ‘ashtray of Europe’

Austria is tiring of its reputation as "the ashtray of Europe" -- at least according to the results of a nationwide petition backing a ban on smoking in cafes and restaurants.

Austria tiring of being 'ashtray of Europe'
Guests puff on cigarettes in a Vienna bar. Photo: AFP

Pressure is now mounting on Austria's far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) to drop its opposition to a referendum on the issue after the petition organised by Austria's medical association garnered 881,569 signatures.

The result, which represents 14 percent of the electorate and more than 10 percent of the population overall, is the seventh largest for a petition of its kind, according to public radio Ö1.

Austria is one of the last European countries where smoking is still permitted in bars and restaurants despite calls for bans dating back 13 years, prompting anti-smoking groups to dub it the “ashtray of Europe”.

That looked as though it would change when in 2015 the previous government — a “grand coalition” of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) and centre-right People's Party (ÖVP) — voted through a ban that was meant to take effect in May this year.

However, after elections in October 2017, the FPÖ and its leader Heinz-Christian Strache — himself a keen smoker — made dropping the ban a condition of joining a coalition with the ÖVP of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

As a result, smoking in bars and restaurants stayed legal as long as it was done in a separate area — although this rule is not always rigidly implemented.

No separate area is necessary in establishments smaller than 50 square metres (540 square feet) if the owner is happy to allow smoking on the premises.

The situation is an “aberration” which is “contrary to the trend across the rest of the world”, according to the medical association, which stresses that 13,000 people die each year in Austria from smoking-related causes.

According to Eurostat, 30 percent of Austrians over the age of 15 smoke — the third-highest proportion in the EU — and it has some of the EU's cheapest cigarettes.

'Election campaign joke' 

The impressive level of support for the anti-smoking petition has put the FPÖ in an awkward position: the party has said it is keen to promote “direct democracy” but has consistently refused to entertain a referendum on the smoking issue.

“If the call for direct democracy is more than just an election campaign joke, the government has to allow a referendum,” said new SPÖ leader Pamela Rendi-Wagner.

The FPÖ has put its own gloss on the results of the petition.

According to prominent FPÖ MP Walter Rosenkranz, the high level of participation “demonstrated a desire for more direct democracy among the population”.

At the same time, party leader Strache stressed that “more than 85 percent” of voters did not sign the petition and that it had not achieved the threshold of 900,000 beyond which the party had promised a referendum at some point 
after 2021.

However, the Austrian press largely echoed the Kronen Zeitung tabloid when it said “it will be difficult for the FPÖ to explain why they're not organising a referendum straight away”.

Several prominent ÖVP politicians have also come out in favour of a referendum, including the mayors of Graz and Salzburg.

Even though he was also part of the previous government that backed the law, Chancellor Kurz has maintained a studied silence on the issue.

Strache, who is also vice-chancellor, claims the current setup maintains “freedom of choice” and protects “the interests of non-smokers, smokers and restaurateurs”.

However, a growing number of establishments are themselves becoming smoke-free.

The country's Economic Chamber, which represents businesses, says that “not a single establishment set up this year has set aside a smoking area”.