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Belgium Failing Ex-Smokers

Belgian ex-smokers are now in crisis as vape supplies dry up and their option to reduce tobacco-related harm removed. Many are returning to smoking

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A Belgian news outlet is reporting that a crisis is taking place in addition to the COVID pandemic. Belgian ex-smokers are returning to smoking cigarettes as vape supplies dry up because their option to reduce tobacco-related harm has been removed through store closures and online sale bans.

RTL-TVI is a private French-language television station in Belgium that is owned by the RTL Group. Within the French-speaking area of Belgium, it is the most popular channel with a 20 percent viewing share. It was one of the first independent television stations in Belgium.

Belgium politicians deemed that vape stores were non-essential and ordered their closure. Without stores, vapers found their access to liquid refills vanished. RTL reports that the risk of vapers returning to smoking is “real”.

Ordering online was banned as part of a 2016 royal decree. Distance selling of electronic cigarette products was prohibited and Belgian vapers were also blocked from purchasing on the internet and importing from abroad.

The news channel reports that garden centres and DIY stores were allowed to reopen last weekend, but that all other non-food outlets had to remain shut. RTL states “the situation has become critical” for ex-smokers.

“Because of the confinement, I cracked and I resumed smoking," it quotes Patricia from Brussels saying.

This isn’t an individual case. RTL says it has received “many other testimonies” from ex-smokers who had switched to vaping but now find themselves unable to access reduced harm products.

It cites Patrick, co-founder of the Belgian Union for Vape, saying: “All those who have started vaping and who have no products are in need, so automatically, they will start smoking again.”

France and Italy also took a hardline stance on stores but relented when faced with strong criticism from advocates and the industry. Britain too, despite its world leading position on tobacco harm reduction, closed vape stores. Fortunately, a strong online market continues to supply essential equipment and liquids to users who know where to find them.

Claude Bamberger, president of the Independent Association of Electronic Cigarette Users (Aiduce, France) told RTL: “The Belgian state has preferred to favour smoking.”

Maggie De Block, Minister of Public Health, reaffirmed: “Decisions about what constitutes essential services are taken within the crisis centre. It was decided on this occasion that the vape-shops were not part of it.”

Her department pointed out that supplies of eliquid could be sourced from tobacco shops. Not only is a tobacco shop somewhere vapers don’t want to visit, but the quality of the vape products they hold has been criticised for being “low end, it’s not great”.

Vape stores looking to circumvent the current situation spoke about operating a click and collect service. This too was slapped down by ignorant administrators. The inspection service told them they should look to sell their products in supermarkets.

Vapemap’s Diego Mersch, a distributor of vape products in Europe, told reporters it was “an absurd idea.” He added: “It doesn't work like that! There is no store that will resell its stock to a supermarket! They don't care! They answer you without answering you and send you to the website of the crisis centre. They do not want to understand or deliberately do not understand.”

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Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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