Thursday, 30 July 2015

Norwegian Directorate of Health goes to war against Norwegian e-cig retailers

The Norwegian Directorate of Health recently sent out a warning to all the major Norwegian vape-shops, instructing them to remove all positive coverage and all pictures of their products from their web-sites. I believe skypumpen.no, an excellent Norwegian vaping blog, dedicated to consumer information and safety, was the first to report this here in Norway last week:
All the major Norwegian retailers have these days received a threatening letter from the Directorate of Health that takes on the entire industry. In terms like "promotion of tobacco-related substitutes" and "Discounted rates" they have, with no concrete evidence, juxtaposed vapor to smoke and smokeless tobacco. Meanwhile, they continue to refer to Nicotine Gum and nicotine spray as good alternatives to tobacco. This in spite that the vaping equipment in itself contains no nicotine, nor do any of the retailers contacted sell nicotine-containing products.

Our Norwegian retailers obviously see this as particularly unfounded and unfair .. and I do too. It is completely wrong to compare the vaping; with or without nicotine (or batteries for that matter) with tobacco .. or any other substitutes. Hence the retailers are gearing up for the battle to retain their rights to sell user equipment.
(Read the full article here. It's in Norwegian but hopefully Google translate will do a decent job)
After this some Norwegian newspapers also reported on the case and thankfully some of the retailers were also allowed to comment along with representatives from the Directorate of Health. Hilde Skyvulstad from the Directorate of Health claims that e-cigarettes are a "tobacco surrogate" and therefore covered by the prohibition of advertising for such products here in Norway. She says that illustrations of e-cigarettes and prices are not allowed other than in black on white and that the "product description shall also be neutral and not give a positive review of the product, regardless of whether the products contain nicotine or not". And she finishes of with a proper threat: "Those who do not comply may be fined". I'm happy to see that none of the retailers I usually visit have complied. I am also very happy to see what Ramzy Zaher, one of the retailers warned, told VG (Norwegian Newspaper) in response to this: He says that the retailers stand united in their case against the Directorate of Health and that there are plans to create a trade union.

One of the Norwegian retailers also published the whole letter on their Facebook-page some days after receiving it. I'm not going to translate the whole thing here. The main point is that advertising for "tobacco surrogates" is illegal in Norway, and that the Directorate of Health views pictures and positive words about the products on the retailers webpages as such advertising. Hence it's illegal they say. The problem here is the definition of "tobacco surrogates" according to the law: "Product who's usage corresponds to tobacco products, but does not contain tobacco". Now of course it's easy to see that using e-cigarettes have some similarities to smoking cigarettes. One can of course argue that e-cigarettes and vaping equipment also differs a lot from smoking cigarettes, but the way this paragraph is written and stands today, I doubt it will get us anywhere. We have to face the fact that the e-cigarette was created as a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes. The problem here is that the paragraph was written before the e-cigarettes hit the market. The intention of the paragraph was probably to stop products that imitated cigarette smoking and that could possibly encourage smoking. A gateway effect in other words. The intention of the paragraph was NOT to stop products that discourage smoking or helps people quit, like vaping does, and it has been proven over and over again that using e-cigarettes is not a gateway to smoking cigarettes. The Directorate of Health knows this very well, I mean they are not crusading against any of big pharma's "tobacco surrogates" are they? Yet they are using a paragraph that obviously works against it's intention, and hence should be revised, to start a war on a product they don't like. In fact it's a product they should be in love with, if their intention is to promote public health. Why? Again, I struggle to find any good reasoning behind this. As much as I'd like to believe that the Directorate of Health is concerned with our health alone, like they should be, their actions and statements simply does not imply this. They are consequently ignoring all evidence supporting e-cigarettes, but they seem to listen to the mumbo jumbo of witch doctors like Sanner and Grimsrud. I'd like to quote Jo Christian at skypumpen.no again: 
I do not wish to fuel conspiracy theories, but it is no secret that the "petroleum fund" (Government Pension Fund of Norway) owns and has been owning significant proportions of shares in the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries (have a look here for more info on what shares Norway owns: http://www.nbim.no/en/the-fund/holdings/) [...] So what does it really take for the Directorate of Health to see how much vaping has helped ex-smokers all over the world?
Are you sure they're really not seeing it? You'd have to be blind or closing your eyes not to ... I'm not sure which one I find the most scary.

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