Israel's Health Ministry Mulls Five-year Ban on Electronic Cigarettes

Ministry also considering alternative plan that would define electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, making them subject to all the restrictions that apply to regular cigarettes.

A professional committee of the Health Ministry has recommended a five-year ban on the manufacture, import and sale of electronic cigarettes in Israel. The Health Ministry has invited the public to comment before it renders its final decision.

The professional committee, which is headed by Dr. Yishai Levy and was appointed by Health Ministry Deputy Director General Dr. Boaz Lev, recommends a five-year ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes. During those five years, the ministry will continue keeping track of global scientific developments regarding the product’s safety and efficacy so it can decide whether to make the ban permanent.

An electronic cigarette is an electronic inhaler that vaporizes a liquid solution into an aerosol mist, giving the user a sensation similar to smoking a regular tobacco cigarette. Such products were originally marketed as smoking cessation aids, but in many countries it is no longer legal to do so.

Health Ministry officials are also considering an alternative decision that would define electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, making them subject to all the restrictions that apply to such products. Aside from high taxation, their advertising and sale would be restricted, their use would be forbidden in public places and the public would be warned of their risks. Before the decision is made, the Health Ministry is asking the public to make suggestions on the issue by March 25, 2013 at www.shituf.gov.il.

Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes, have been manufactured since 2004. Over the past few months, they have become popular in Israel because of the price increase in conventional cigarettes. As far back as July 2009, the Health Ministry issued a warning against them following a warning by the United States Food and Drug Administration that they could contain carcinogens, including cancer-causing substances used in anti-freeze. Health Ministry officials also decided to prohibit the import of electronic cigarettes, but the prohibition never took effect, and e-cigarettes are freely imported into Israel.

In June 2012, the Health Ministry issued another warning against e-cigarettes, stating in part: “Their contribution to smoking cessation is unproven, and in certain cases they could cause real danger to health.” E-cigarettes are available for purchase in pharmacies, stores that offer gifts for men, candy stores and over the Internet. Some manufacturers use social media to market their products.

One reason the committee has recommended stopping the sale of e-cigarettes in Israel is because of findings in various countries. One such survey of 100 users in Israel that was conducted by Professor Ben-Ami Sela, the director of Sheba Medical Center’s institute of chemical pathology, found that 10 percent of people who used e-cigarettes had never smoked in the past.

Some countries, including Russia, the state of Victoria in Australia, Singapore, Turkey, Jordan, Hong Kong, Brazil, Argentina and Canada, have already instituted a complete ban on the sale of e-cigarettes that contain nicotine. Some American states, such as New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, have also prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes to minors and forbidden their use in public places.

An e-cigarette uses electricity to create vapor that the user inhales into the mouth and airways. The vapor contains flavorings, an agent that creates steam that resembles cigarette smoke, and other active ingredients. Health Ministry officials say that “no electronic cigarette product that is sold today in Israel, with nicotine or without it, has received approval from the Health Ministry.”

The Health Ministry’s professional committee determined that “the electronic cigarette is shown in a misleading manner as a supposedly safe alternative to ordinary cigarettes and a means of assistance in smoking cessation. The way it is marketed takes advantage of the fact that it is a new product whose status has not yet been determined in Israel or the world because it has not been researched or studied deeply.”
 

Nir Kafri
John Minchillo/AP