High smoking rates are one of the biggest public health threats that Italy faces. According to the 2022 report on smoking in Italy almost 1 in 4 Italians (24.2% of the population) smoke. This is the highest rate registered since 2006, 2 percent points higher than the rate presented in the last report before the pandemic (22%). For this, Italy is paying a high price: with more than 90 thousand deaths every year caused by tobacco-related diseases, tobacco consumption has become the single largest avoidable health risk, accounting for 20.6% of the total of all deaths among men and 7.9% of the total of all deaths among women. The costs of this amounts up to more than EUR 26 billion.
Fortunately, the recent emergence of reduced-harm nicotine products such as vaping poses a hope for smokers: a consumer-friendly vaping regime like that of the United Kingdom, would allow 2,75 million smokers in Italy to switch to vaping and live healthier lives. By switching to this 95% less harmful alternative, people can substantially improve their lives and public health will greatly benefit.
For this to happen, the Italian government needs to substantially change its approach to vaping and promote tobacco harm reduction policies both at the national and European levels. The recent formation of the new Italian government, along with the upcoming update of the EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), presents an ideal window of opportunity to change the perspective and the regulation of vaping in Italy. To help achieve this, the World Vapers’ Alliance has presented the Italian Government a 7-step plan to reduce smoking rates in Italy. The 7 steps are the following:
- Embrace tobacco harm reduction: The Italian Government needs to make a clear commitment to the concept of tobacco harm reduction and put practical solutions such as vaping at centre stage, instead of unrealistic approaches such as the “quit or die” approach. Encouraging current smokers to switch to vaping and guaranteeing access to vaping products for adults will be key for smoking rates to go down in Italy.
- Promote vaping as a smoking cessation tool: We encourage the Italian government to begin an information campaign on the advantages of vaping compared to smoking, aimed at both the general public and to physicians. In addition, health personnel should be educated on the potential of vaping for public health and be qualified to prescribe it as an anti-tobacco therapy. Vaping has been proved to be the most successful smoking cessation method and in some countries doctors already recommend them to smokers as a healthier alternative.
- Allow vaping in non-smoking outdoor areas: unlike with smoking, there is no evidence that secondhand vaping is harmful. Therefore, vaping should be excluded from smoke-free areas aimed at smoking. This would be yet another incentive for smokers to switch to a safer alternative if they were allowed to vape anywhere outside.
- Lower taxation on vaping products and adjust it to its relative risk: Less harmful alternatives must not become luxury products. Yet, Italy is one of the countries where nicotine liquids pay the highest taxes. It has been proven that increased prices on vaping products disincentive vaping and lead to higher smoking rates and, from a public health perspective, it does not make sense that vaping products are regulated and taxed the same way as combustible tobacco, since they are much less harmful. Vaping products should be taxed at a level adjusted to their relative risk in comparison to tobacco.
- Reject flavour bans: Vaping flavours allow vapers to forget the taste of tobacco and are one of the main reasons why smokers don’t go back after switching to vaping. More than two-thirds of vapers are using flavours other than tobacco, and those using flavours are 230% more likely to quit smoking than those who don’t vape flavours at all. We urge the Italian Government to reject all proposals to ban flavours as they could potentially push 5 out of 10 vapers back to smoking or the black market, where there is no guarantee of safety or quality.
- Keep vaping available while enforcing smart regulations to prevent underage vaping strictly: Banning e-cigarettes or flavours is not the solution to keep minors away from vaping. Prohibitions, or some policies proposed in other EU Member States such as banning online sales or limiting them to state tobacconists would cause more harm than good and are highly discouraged. Instead, measures such as increasing fines for those selling vaping products to minors or simply allocating more resources to law enforcement may be the solution. The Italian government should focus on preventing underage vaping without making it more difficult for smokers to vape.
- Promote tobacco harm reduction in the EU institutions and legislations: Packaging, advertising or the levels of nicotine liquids contain are regulated at the EU level. As the TPD will be revisited soon, we highly encourage the Italian Government to take an active role in it, promoting tobacco harm reduction in the European institutions and fighting legislation reducing consumer choice and restricting vaping.
The 7-step plan was also presented at a press conference in Rome last week and is part of the WVA’s “Back Vaping. Beat Cancer” campaign. If you want to support the cause, sign the petition HERE