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Science of Electronic Cigarettes

Switzerland: E-Cig Regulatory Environment

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Swiss Vapers Forced to Buy Abroad Despite Switzerland Being the Leading Producer of Nicotine

The Swiss are notorious neutralists when it comes to foreign policy, and the same seems to be true when it comes to international trade of tobacco alternatives. While e-cigarettes and e-liquids containing nicotine are illegal to sell within Switzerland, Swiss citizens may import e-cig hardware and refill cartridges containing nicotine from other countries for personal use. E-cigs without nicotine may be sold in Swiss pharmacies so long as the products make no claims of offering health benefits. Nonetheless, restrictions on nicotine have not stopped Swiss vapers from getting their fix; a 2011 online survey of 3587 Swiss e-cig users found that 97 percent of respondents used e-liquids containing nicotine.

Since Switzerland is not a member of the European Union, the country isn’t obliged to follow the E.U.’s Tobacco Productive Directive; however, if the only option for Swiss vapers remains importing products from other countries, the TPD restrictions may significantly impact Swiss vapers. The current language of the TPD sets limits on, amongst other things, nicotine levels, refill cartridges and requires e-cig products to carry very specific health warnings; however, the provisions regarding e-cigs are currently being challenged in E.U. courts because distributors say the TPD unfairly targets tobacco alternatives in favor of traditional tobacco. Considering lobbyists, allegedly hired by Altria Group, the world’s largest tobacco company, helped write the directive, several court rulings have sided with e-cig advocates.

Ironically, despite Switzerland’s prohibition on the sale of e-cigs and e-liquids containing nicotine, Swiss company Siegfried Holding is responsible for producing over half of the world’s pure nicotine extract. Pharmaceutical companies across the globe use Siegfried’s nicotine to make smoking cessation products like gums and patches. A significant rise in e-cig sales, which Euromonitor International estimates surpassed $5 billion globally in 2014, has led the Swiss company to start dabbling in vaping.

British American Tobacco was one of the first traditional tobacco companies to jump on the vaping bandwagon when it introduced Vype in 2013. Will Hill, a spokesperson for BAT, told Bloomberg Business, “We chose to work with Siegfried because they are able to supply pharmaceutical-grade nicotine, something we feel is very important and one of the key selling points for Vype.” It should be noted that Vype, unlike the Marlboro HeatStick, is truly an e-cig because it contains no tobacco.

Siegfried may open its arms to other e-cig manufacturers, but the current ban on products containing nicotine in the company’s home country casts doubt on that prospect. Legalizing e-cigs with nicotine would have a positive impact upon the Swiss economy since data suggests most Swiss vapers buy from abroad. The country would also likely see a drop in smoking rates and consequently save government funds spent on healthcare.

A study published in 2014, by researchers at the University of Lausanne, analyzed the opinions of dozens of Swiss physicians and public health officials who specialize in tobacco dependency. The overwhelming consensus was that enough data exists to prove e-cigs are safer than traditional tobacco cigarettes. The experts agreed that more research should be done to improve safety standards for the products, but they also agreed that e-cigs and e-liquids containing nicotine should be legalized in Switzerland immediately. The specialists also recommended that a specific tax be placed on e-cigs with revenues going directly to ongoing e-cig safety research. However, they cautioned that the tax should be lower than tobacco taxes to maintain the monetary appeal of alternatives to conventional tobacco products.

Sitting on one of the world’s largest pure nicotine supplies puts Switzerland in a position to be a world leader in vaping and, consequently, tobacco cessation. Hopefully, public policy will catch up to scientific consensus, and Swiss vapers will no longer need to import e-cigs from elsewhere.