The government has announced that from April 1st, 2015, the sale of e-cigarettes and e-shishas will be allowed only at officially-licensed tobacco shops in Austria.
A bill for the inclusion of the products within the tobacco monopoly law is currently before parliament.
The Treasury cited health policy concerns and the protection of minors as reasons for the proposed action. For the approximately 75 e-cigarette distributors in Austria this would mean the end of their business.
About five years ago, Manfred Achleitner opened one of the first e-cigarette shops in Vienna. Since then, the vapor business has been booming.
Today he makes about €1 million turnover per year with his two stores, and he recently signed the contract for a third site in Upper Austria.
Achleitner cannot understand the decision to include his products in the tobacco monopoly law.
For Achleitner, the amendment of the law would mean the end of his business. His 19 employees would be left without a job.
In Austria, around 250 people work in the e-cigarette trade.
According to Achleitner most tobacconists have no clue about catering to e-cigarette consumer needs. "E-cigarettes are highly sophisticated products. In my business the introduction of the product to a customer takes about half an hour. How can a small tobacco shop cope?" he asked.
Tina Reisenbichler, Managing Director of the Austrian tobacco monopoly company, believes that tobacconists will not be overwhelmed: "The sale of cigars requires intensive consultation and is no problem for the tobacconists. We welcome the decision to include e-cigarettes in the tobacco monopoly. This ensures the position of the Austrian tobacconists."
With a decline in newspaper sales and the decline in regular tobacco consumption, the 6,600 Austrian tobacconists will view the inclusion of e-cigarettes in their product range as part of the tobacco monopoly as a way to reverse sales declines.
Photo: Paul Gillingwater
But Achleitner and his colleagues will not accept the new rules so easily. Last Saturday, the entrepreneur organized a demonstration in front of parliament.
"We want to encourage debate and seek dialogue with the tobacconists," said Achleitner. If that doesn't help, he will also consider legal action. He feels that the short transition time given for the proposed law is not realistic.
The Treasury Department, which sponsored the bill, thinks e-cigarettes should be handled by tobacconists, both as a way of protecting minors and making people more aware of the health issues.