|08 December, 2019

Bahraini MP backs call to scrap tax on e-cigarette imports

Authorities last year extended a sin tax on tobacco, fizzy drinks and energy drinks to include e-cigarette liquid

Image used for illustrative purpose. A man uses an IQOS e-cigarette at an outlet in London, Britain, January 25, 2018.

Image used for illustrative purpose. A man uses an IQOS e-cigarette at an outlet in London, Britain, January 25, 2018.

REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

A Bahraini MP has backed calls to scrap excise duty on e-cigarette imports, saying they should be regarded as “pharmaceutical products” that help people quit tobacco.

Ahmed Al Salloom, who is parliament’s financial and economic affairs committee chairman, said he supported the proposal by Swiss-based manufacturer JTI.

The firm says countries in the GCC are charging higher excise tax on imported e-cigarette products than elsewhere.

Meanwhile, in the UK such products are being sold in high street pharmacies as tools to quit smoking.

“E-cigarettes should be classified as pharmaceutical products or devices – in the same family as nicotine patches or chewing gum,” Mr Al Salloom told the GDN.

“The 100pc excise tax on e-cigarettes should be revised because they come in sealed boxes and containers from reputable companies.”

He questioned the logic of allowing cigarettes to be sold cheaper than vaping products, despite the latter being widely accepted as less harmful.

However, he also proposed that strict rules should be in place to ensure only the highest quality e-cigarette products entered the Bahrain market.

“The problems come with unregulated vaping devices, or juices that may have been made in a storeroom and no-one knows about their contents or safety,” added the MP.

He was responding to a recommendation that Bahrain should reduce excise tax on vaping imports by JTI, a tobacco company that also manufactures e-cigarettes.

“E-cigarettes, or vaping, should not be taxed in the same way as tobacco products,” said JTI’s Middle East corporate affairs and communications director Hadi Sleiman.

“They are non-smoking products and do not contain tobacco.”

Authorities last year extended a sin tax on tobacco, fizzy drinks and energy drinks to include e-cigarette liquid, which saw the enforcement of an excise duty of 100 per cent.

The move was criticised at the time by retailers and consumers, who argued that higher prices could drive former smokers back to cigarettes.

Neighbouring Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on vaping products in May and also adopted a 100pc excise tax.

The sale of e-cigarettes and other vaping devices has been officially allowed in the UAE since Sunday, although a similar excise tax applies.

Such products are already openly available at shops in Bahrain and Kuwait, although their sale is illegal in Qatar and Oman.

Approval

A draft agreement on nicotine products has been drawn up by the GCC Standardisation Organisation (GSO), which could potentially see common rules adopted by all member countries.

It proposes that e-cigarettes and vaping products in the Gulf should carry a mandatory health advisory, including on the nicotine juice containers.

In addition, it envisages a maximum nicotine content of 20mg/ml for each liquid – and a maximum tank size of 2ml for devices.

However, the draft agreement it is yet to be approved.

“The GCC Standardisation Organisation draft is being discussed and is yet to be approved by all GCC countries, while Saudi and the UAE have their own rules in place,” said Mr Sleiman.

“Our position at JTI is clear: Regulate these products and adopt standards to ensure high quality e-cigarettes.

“Everything from the device, juice, pods and chargers related to vaping should be regulated in a balanced way in Gulf countries.”

Mr Sleiman was speaking to the GDN during a tour of the company’s production facility in Weybridge, UK.

Headquartered in Geneva, JTI is the third largest international tobacco manufacturer in the world. The company expects the global retail sales value to increase from $14bn last year to $55bn by 2025 due to the growing demand.

Mr Sleiman said such companies were seeking to build closer links with governments to improve awareness of their products.

“We need an open dialogue with countries so the industry can present its views,” he said.

“Policymakers need access to key information.

“We are seeing extremely high excise tax and VAT applied on these products in some Gulf countries, which is unprecedented.

“If the prices of juices or e-liquids are high, this creates a problem because a smoker will continue with his pack of cigarettes – which are cheaper in Gulf countries.”

Meanwhile, he said the firm had already been in contact with officials in Bahrain and Kuwait about the need for regulation that bans the import of poor quality products.

“We are in constant talks with officials in Bahrain and Kuwait as we want regulations to be introduced on unregulated e-cigarettes,” he said.

Public Health England, a UK government agency, has declared that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than smoking.

Help

It also found that e-cigarettes could be helping at least 20,000 people quit smoking every year.

Another study released last month by Professor Jacob George, of the University of Dundee, suggests switching from cigarettes to vaping could reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.

However, the industry was hit by a spate of 47 deaths due to a mysterious respiratory illness, which is allegedly tied to vaping in the US.

This led US officials to urge people to stop vaping, particularly products containing THC – an active chemical in marijuana.

President Donald Trump in September announced a plan to remove all flavoured e-cigarettes from store shelves, based on concerns that they had turned millions of children into nicotine addicts.

Meanwhile, India, Brazil, Singapore, Mexico, Cambodia and Thailand have all banned e-cigarettes due to concerns about health.

sandy@gdn.com.bh

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