On June 30, almost a year after Panama’s National Assembly passed legislation banning vape product sales, Panamanian President Laurentino Cortizo gave his assent to the bill. The new law prohibits sales and importation of all vaping and heated tobacco products, with or without nicotine.
The law does not criminalize use, but bans vaping in any place where smoking is not allowed. The new law also prohibits internet purchases, and gives customs officials authority to inspect, detain and seize shipments. Resellers are allowed to import banned products meant for export to third countries, according to La Prensa.
President Cortizo vetoed a ban passed by the National Assembly in 2020, and then waited nearly a year to approve the 2021 bill. Panama had already prohibited e-cigarette sales in 2014 by executive decree.
Consumer vaping advocates at the Asociación por la Reducción de Daños del Tabaquismo de Panamá (ARDT Panamá) opposed passage of the bill last year, noting that it would push vapers to illegal black market products of questionable quality.
More than a dozen Latin American and Caribbean countries have vape bans, including Mexico, whose president recently issued a decree prohibiting sales of vapes and heated tobacco products.
Much of the impetus for these laws comes from the staunchly anti-vaping World Health Organization (WHO) and its affiliated Bloomberg Philanthropies-funded tobacco control groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and The Union. Their influence is strong in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), and extends to the WHO-sponsored international treaty organization the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
Panama is set to host the 10th FCTC Conference of the Parties (COP10) in 2023. Last year’s COP9 conference was held online, and FCTC leadership postponed discussion of vaping laws and regulations until next year’s meeting.
The Panamanian president and the country’s public health authorities probably expect significant praise from the FCTC’s anti-vaping leadership at the 2023 conference. Panama may collect awards from the WHO and regional tobacco control organizations for its prohibitionist stance, as India and Mexico have.
The Republic of Panama borders Colombia, connecting North and South America, and its famous Panama Canal bisects the narrow country, allowing easy passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Panama has a population of about four million.