CAIRO: The US Food and Drug Administration finally approved the sale of three types of e-cigarettes last week, leaving business to ask what this means for the Egyptian market?
RJ Reynolds’ Vuse Solo e-cigarettes and two types of its tobacco-flavoured pods became the first-ever vapour products to win clearance from the US health watchdog.
The FDA decided after more than a year of tests that the benefit of the product to adults trying to quit smoking outweighs the risk of teenagers becoming hooked.
The regulator said the move was an “important step toward ensuring all new tobacco products undergo the FDA’s robust, scientific premarket evaluation”.
However, last Tuesday’s ruling came even as e-cigarettes have been widely available in the US for over a decade.
Yet this decision may pave the way to curb the widespread illegal trade in electronic smoking devices in Egypt.
The Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population recently warned against using e-cigarettes, saying that vaping contains nicotine and toxic substances that harm the smoker and those around them.
A ministry publication said that vaping can lead to chronic lung diseases, breathing problems and chest pain.
Western smoking products such as e-liquid pods carry a nicotine strength of 4.8%, roughly equivalent to a pack of cigarettes.
Nicotine is the chemical released when tobacco is smoked and is the addictive stimulant that gives users a rush. Vaping firms say their products provide smokers nicotine, with far fewer of the dangerous toxins contained in burning tobacco.
Studies around the world are unclear on the health effects of e-cigarettes.
However, Fawzi Al-Hwaiti, a tobacco seller in central Cairo, is at the sharp end of the e-cigarette business in Egypt.
He stresses that only three types of vapes are authorized in Egypt, adding that he does not know whether the products he brings from dealers are legal or not. His prices range from EGP 600 to EGP 1,000.
Al-Hwaiti told Arab News: “It is not important that it be legal. The important thing is, it comes to me and I sell it and earn from it to support my family. I think it's legal because no one from the authorities has spoken to me before that.”
Some ordinary smokers hope that relaxation in the US will lead to a looser policy in Egypt.
The move by the FDA was welcomed by Engineer Islam Shawqi, a longtime smoker who decided to quit by taking up e-cigarettes.
He said: “I have smoked all my life, I have been a smoker for a long time, and I wanted to stop smoking. I resorted to smoking e-cigarettes, as I heard that they are less harmful.”
Shawqi believes that the approval of some types of vapes is the beginning of an opening up of trade in Egypt, that will help adult smokers like him.
However, the Egyptian Chambers of Commerce makes clear that the expansion of the e-cigarette market is in the hands of the government.
The business body said: "We have not received any notification, and I think that the Egyptian Ministry of Health must declare this matter first, before implementing it commercially.”
Robert Naous, Director of External Affairs, Middle East and North Africa, the leading e-cigarette maker Relx International expressed his happiness with lifting ban in Egypt, as he commented in a statement: “Lifting this ban in Egypt is a good and specific step in the right direction, which will greatly benefit the general investment environment in the country, by encouraging small and medium-sized companies and manufacturers to invest, opening new stores, and importing rechargeable vaping devices, thus creating new job opportunities. It is also certain that the state treasury will benefit by generating additional tax revenues in a sound manner, as it blocks the way for illegal merchants who evade import tax.”