The government of Venezuela has banned e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products—including personal use by individuals. The decision came in an Aug. 1 health ministry resolution, which claims the action is based on health concerns.
The resolution, published in the country’s official gazette, prohibits the “manufacture, storage, distribution, circulation, commercialization, import, export, use, consumption, advertising, promotion, and sponsorship” of all vaping products—including products that contain no nicotine.
The decision came less than two months after Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro ordered the health ministry to evaluate the possibility of banning vapes. “I would tell our medical and scientific teams to study the possibility of prohibiting the sale, in national territory, of these devices that are harmful to health, that make the lungs sick, the bronchial tubes sick, which create serious problems,” Maduro said in a June speech.
The president’s order coincided with a Venezuelan campaign against vaping by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), a regional office of the anti-vaping World Health Organization (WHO). PAHO issued a statement Friday congratulating the authoritarian Maduro government for the decision, which PAHO says “becomes one of the most important achievements of Venezuelan public health in recent years and places the country in the vanguard squad in the fight against tobacco and its derivatives in the region.”
A health ministry press release explained that “there are studies and clinical trials of doctors and scientists carried out in the country, which have reached the conclusion that [e-cigarettes] contain totally toxic substances that cause addiction. and are harmful to health, increase the risk of heart disease, lung disorders, among other pathologies.” According to the health ministry, heated tobacco products “contain other toxic substances that are found at higher levels than in the smoke originated from burning tobacco.”
The government did not ban cigarettes, which are proven to cause all of the health conditions named by the health ministry. About 14 percent of adults smoke daily in Venezuela, according to the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction, and more than 17,000 Venezuelans die each year from smoking.
Many Latin American countries have prohibited vaping products, including Brazil and Mexico. These vape bans are often implemented as health department rules or presidential decrees, based on purported health concerns.
In most countries that have banned vaping products, enforcement is spotty or nonexistent, and robust black markets develop quickly. In Venezuela, legal vape shops are closing their doors for the time being.
“More than 5,000 people at shops are now unfortunately unemployed,” Caracas vape shop manager Luis Eduardo Lemus told AP. “We fear that if you do things related to this, they will put you in jail, take everything from you, or beat you, because the police here are like that. We still don’t know what will be done, but for now the store doors are closed until further notice.”