BAHRAIN’s vaping community is up in arms after the government slapped a 100 per cent tax on e-cigarette liquids.
Authorities have extended a sin tax on tobacco, fizzy drinks and energy drinks to include e-cigarette liquid, doubling the price of all new vape juice imports.
The product was slapped with excise tax on July 12 without any formal announcement, after being classified as “tobacco”.
However, retailers and consumers have criticised the move – arguing that vape liquid contains zero tobacco and warning that higher prices could drive former smokers back to cigarettes.
“It makes no sense to charge tax at 100pc on the retail price of vape juice, which is now classified as tobacco product,” said Sayed Al Wadei, owner of Vapeworld in Tubli.
“Most of the stores import more than 40,000 different vape juice bottles every month, mainly from the US, and you can do the maths to know how much excise tax they now have to pay for each consignment.”
Mr Al Wadei said it was a major blow for close to 50 vape stores in Bahrain, which have burgeoning trade with clients from other Gulf countries.
“All of us do big wholesale and retail business, especially with clients from Gulf countries, as well as employ Bahrainis,” he said.
“With this new excise tax, which came as a surprise, many will shut down their stores because it will be difficult to pass on extra costs to consumers.”
Mr Al Wadei, who has been vaping since 2016, is behind a non-profit advocacy group on Instagram called VMMQ.ME - which stands for “vaping made me quit”.
It is one of many Bahraini accounts on social media now promoting the hashtag #BAHRAIN_VAPE_IS_NOT_TOBACCO, in response to the new tax.
Vaping and e-cigarettes are considered a more healthy alternative to traditional smoking products, with several people using them to stop tobacco habit.
Only this month the American Cancer Society said that while the long-term effects of vaping was not known, vaping devices were “markedly less harmful than combustible tobacco products”.
“They (vaping devices) do not burn tobacco, a process that yields an estimated 7,000 chemicals, including at least 70 carcinogens,” it said.
This follows the release of a British government health report earlier this year, which concluded that vaping was 95 per cent safer than traditional smoking products.
“Vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys substantial health benefits over continued smoking,” said the report by Public Health England.
“Based on current knowledge, stating that vaping is at least 95pc less harmful than smoking remains a good way to communicate the large difference in relative risk.”
The UK report also found that e-cigarettes could be helping at least 20,000 people quit smoking every year.
However, a mistaken belief that nicotine causes cancer is believed to be one reason that people are reluctant to accept vaping as a healthier alternative to tobacco.
“Less than 10pc of adults understand that most of the harms to health from smoking are not caused by nicotine,” it says.
Bahrain’s decision to lump vaping products together with tobacco has therefore been described as a step backwards in the country’s war on smoking.
Hussain Zaimoor, who owns two outlets of the Bahrain Vape Club, warned Bahrain could also lose its status as vape distribution hub in the region.
“First and foremost, vape juice has been reclassified as a tobacco product and 100pc excise tax was imposed, but without informing shop owners,” he complained.
“Many consignments have still not been claimed by the shop owners because the tax is too much.
“We are all concerned about the storage of these products because liquids should be kept at certain temperatures, or else they get spoiled.
“Vape is the fastest growing segment globally and Bahrain is the distribution centre for e-juices to Gulf states, but now – with this tax – we are in a dilemma.”
However, Mr Zaimoor said he and other retailers had so far resisted raising prices for customers.
“We have to show some resistance because we are against any increase in price or tax on vape products,” he said.
The new tax imposes a 100pc tax on e-liquid, a substance that typically contains nicotine, Propylene Glycol (PG), Vegetable Glycerine and flavourings.
A list released by Bahrain’s Finance Ministry says a 60ml bottle of e-liquid, which typically costs BD6, should now be sold for BD12.
One user said the move could price many customers out of the market and force some to take up more unhealthy alternatives.
“I used to smoke a pack of cigarettes every day or two, but I haven’t touched a single cigarette since I switched to vaping in February,” said the customer, who asked to remain anonymous.
“There is a lot of misunderstanding about vaping, but one thing is certain – it is a lot better than tobacco and it is wrong to group vaping together with tobacco.
“Honestly I don’t mind if the government wants to increase the tax on e-cigarette liquid, but doubling the price in the shops is too much. “What are they trying to achieve?”