Although Ukraine is often perceived as one of the least free countries in the world, it is more liberal than many when it comes to accessing alcohol, for example, or methadone. And yet, as in many other countries, our political dynamic around e-cigarettes is anything but positive.
On June 1, the Ukrainian Parliament passed in the first reading the draft law #4358: “On Amendments to Some Laws of Ukraine on Public Health Protection from Harmful Tobacco Exposure.” Some key provisions include a prohibition of the use of e-cigarettes in public places, along with advertising, sponsorship and promotion of nicotine vapes. Vape flavors will also be banned if the parliament fully endorses the bill.
According to the explanatory note for #4358—which mirrors the World Health Organization’s recommendations—the law aims to reduce smoking rates among adults by restricting access, marketing and advertising of conventional tobacco, as well as dong the same to new nicotine products and preventing underage vaping.
Banning vape flavors and the promotion of safer alternatives will only increase smoking-related harms that already hit the country hard.
Ukraine has around 9.5 million smokers, according to the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR)—representing a smoking rate among adults of over 25 percent. Our country suffers over 96,000 annual smoking-related deaths. However, the proposed vaping measures do not stand up to scrutiny and will do more harm than good.
A lower-middle income country like Ukraine is particularly vulnerable to the WHO’s misleading statements about vaping. The latest WHO report claims that many countries are “not addressing emerging nicotine and tobacco products and failing to regulate them” and stresses that only a few are effective at that. For a country that’s trying to please the UN for geopolitical reasons, it is a compelling demand to tighten regulation.
E-cigarettes are completely different from conventional cigarettes, and equating them is a fundamental mistake. When burned, traditional cigarettes create more than 7,000 chemicals, at least 69 of which have been identified as carcinogens. Vape liquids, besides water and nicotine, consist of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, both used to form the vapor and add flavor to it. Added to these two ingredients is a flavor, usually a common food flavoring, to help give the vape liquid its taste.
Vape flavors—targeted by #4358—play a crucial role in helping smokers quit. Vapers who use flavors are 2.3 times more likely to quit than those who use tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes. The accessibility of vape flavors ensures that smokers—especially heavy smokers—can experiment to find out which one works best for them.
Banning vape flavors won’t drive down teen smoking. In fact, it might double the probability of them taking up traditional cigarettes, according to a study by the Yale School of Public Health.
Overall, according to the UK’s Royal College of Physicians, “the hazard to health arising from long-term vapor inhalation from the e-cigarettes available today is unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco,” with developing technology likely to further improve safety, and “it is important to promote [their] use … as widely as possible as a substitute for smoking.”
But promoting this lifesaving alternative is exactly what Ukraine’s new law would forbid. It would block access to key information about the benefits of switching, and the 2 million smokers in Ukraine who could switch, given UK-style vape-friendly policies, might never do so. The restrictions on a burgeoning new industry, together with smoking-related health care costs, would additionally hamper Ukraine’s post-COVID economic recovery.
The Ukrainian government should take the path of science and move away from the poisonous, WHO-induced belief that vaping is the same as smoking. Banning vape flavors and the promotion of safer alternatives will only increase smoking-related harms that already hit the country hard. Only by encouraging vaping, as countries like the UK have done successfully, can Ukraine show its commitment to improving public health for the generations to come.
Photograph of Sofia Square, Kiev by Сергій Венцеславський via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 4.0
Knowledge-Action-Change, which publishes GSTHR, has provided restricted grants and donations to The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter.