Romania takes a hardline stance on alternative nicotine products

The Romanian government continues to wage a battle against alternative tobacco products with new legislation that seeks to limit online sales. These moves come in the wake of the government’s summer announcement that flavoured vaping products will be banned by October 2023.

How does the bill affect alternative nicotine products?

Alfred Simonis is a member of the ruling Social Democratic Party and the President of the Romanian Chamber of Deputies. He has put forth amendments to Law no. 201/2016 and 349/2002. The first law pertains to the sale, manufacturing, and marketing of tobacco and related products; the other refers to legislation that seeks to prevent and combat the effects of the consumption of tobacco products and associated products.

As per usual, the word “related” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here. Most of the products under the microscope don’t actually contain tobacco. However, the legislation seems confused about the difference between the two subjects.

There are three main parts of the bill that are worth discussing. Some of it seems reasonable, while there is an element of overreach that is concerning.

Under 18s

Much of the bill is concerned with restricting the access of vapes and nicotine pouches to anyone under the age of 18. One of the limits will include banning vending machines that sell smoking-alternative products.

Restricting sales to people under 18 is sensible. I have no issue with that. However, I didn’t realise that smoking alternative products sold in vending machines was such a scourge that the government is formulating bills to stop them.

I was aware that these vending machines exist in nightclubs, which are surely restricted to people over the age of 18 anyhow. What’s more, I thought these machines were already age-gated and required an ID to make a purchase.

Online sales packaging

The next tactic that the government wants to apply is that all products sold online must clearly state on the external packaging that they contain tobacco or nicotine. When post officers or couriers hand over the item, they must confirm, through the use of ID, that the recipient is over 18.

If the recipient does not provide ID, the parcel must be returned. From there, the retailer must refund the customer minus the shipping costs.

Educational institutions

Finally, all educational institutions must formulate internal regulations designed to reduce students buying or using tobacco and smoking-alternative products within their grounds. I’m not a huge fan of governments telling educational institutions how to discipline their charges. Sadly, it’s standard practice.

Smoking prevalence in Romania

In light of these strict measures, it’s worth looking at Romania’s smoking prevalence rates.

The country has made good progress in reducing smoking over the last 25 years. As recently as 2020, smoking rates stood at around 35%. 

These days, Romania has a smoking prevalence of 19.8%. It’s just over the EU average of 19.7%. However, it is in the top three of European countries for male smokers, with a startlingly high 30.6%. Only Bulgaria (37.6 %) and Latvia (34.4%) have higher smoking rates among men.

Interestingly, smoking rates among women are as low as 7.5% in Romania. A research paper from 2018 may partly explain this disparity. Prevalence and knowledge of e-cigarettes among teenagers in Romania in 2016 (I. Munteanu, 2018) demonstrated that e-cigarette use was on the rise in the country, especially among young women. 

When we think about this in the context of the asymmetrical gender uptake of snus vs nicotine pouches in Sweden, it’s not hard to imagine what access to healthier products could mean for the female market. They might even be able to compete with Sweden’s impressive 5%.

Final thoughts

Romania currently has a coalition government. In the summer of this year, the centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL) rotated with the centre-left Social Democratic Party (PSD), headed up by Marcel Ciolacu. In a few short months, they’ve introduced nicotine flavour bans and placed tight restrictions on selling smoking-alternative products. Who knows what they plan to achieve with a full term?

As always, get involved to stop governments from taking our freedoms.