Mexico has banned all vaping and heated tobacco products. A decree signed Tuesday by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador that outlaws the sale of e-cigarettes is in line with continuing the government’s ongoing anti-vaping policy. Heated tobacco products are not exempt from the ban as previously reported they would.
The decision also follows a maximum health alert issued by the country’s federal health risks commission, which declared that all alternative tobacco smoking products can cause major illness, according to El Pais. Federal and local authorities have launched several campaigns to locate and seize these devices in at least a dozen states.
Mexico had already prohibited imports of the devices since at least October. And even before that, consumer protection and other laws had been used to discourage sales, according to the Associated Press.
Despite Tuesday’s decree, many Mexicans import or buy vaping cartridges or fluid under the table or online domestically. Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López Gatell lashed out at industry claims that vaping is safer than smoking, calling it “a big lie.”
The health alerts and legal measures have prompted a debate about vaping devices that are being smuggled into the country, according to El Pais. During the Senate debate about the tax law, Senator Luis Ortiz proposed regulating the market, saying that distribution is being left to the black market in the absence of companies being able to import the products and pay taxes and salaries.
The government’s own figures estimate that at least 5 million Mexicans have tried vaping at least once.
Although the legal market for vaping products has grown in the country, it still represents a tiny fraction compared to that of conventional cigarettes. Philip Morris International, one of the marketers of these alternatives, went from having 35,000 to nearly 42,000 users of tobacco heaters. According to official government estimates, in the last five years the tobacco industry increased its sales from about 846 to 1.2 billion pesos (about $64 million) a year.
At the same time, according to a study carried out by the Mexican federation of business chambers, illegal tobacco represents 19 percent of the total market. Between 2019 and 2020, although there was an increase in tobacco taxes due to the Special Tax on Products and Services (IEPS), payment of the taxes contracted due to the trade in counterfeit tobacco products.
One of the arguments used to ban all types of vaporizer devices, whether with or without nicotine, is that various flavorings are used to “hook children and adolescents who will later be consumers of other drugs,” Senator Lilia Valdez said before the bill’s approval, according to El Pais.
Andrea Constantini, head of Regional Scientific Engagement for Latin America and Canada at Philip Morris International, says that the ban creates more channels for minors to access unregulated products. Prohibitions, she says, simply lead to a further “lack of control” over the market, with minors acquiring products of varying quality through illicit channels.