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NSP Correspondent - Mirosław Dworniczak | 8 February 2016

Smoking was very popular in Poland during the communist era – almost 50% of adults were smokers. In recent years the number of smokers has constantly declined – recent estimates show that the number is now around 25%. One can expect a further fall of this number, provided the new government does not throw the baby out with the bathwater, which unfortunately is highly likely.

Vaping in Poland

Electronic cigarettes have been available in Poland since 2006/2007, but a real explosion in their use took place around 2010. Although there are no official data, we could estimate that the number of vapers is between1.5 and 2 million. This means that we are one of the biggest groups of e-cigarette users in Europe. There are several thousand vape shops and outlets, including many selling only online. Alas, most of them will be just wiped out once the proposed implementation of TPD comes into effect.

The estimated number of employees in the e-cigarette market is 15-20 thousand. Over the last few years (2012-14) many new small companies emerged, but most of them lasted only few months, or less than two years. The biggest company in Poland, CHIC Group, was recently (November 2015) bought by British American Tobacco. Their products can be bought in over 25 thousand retail outlets.

At first all liquid sold in Poland came from China. Then several Polish companies started production of their own liquids and nicotine bases, using mainly pure ingredients from the EU. Some of these plants are quite big, selling their products not only in Europe but all over the world (export volume approx. 10 million euro). Until now there is no hardware production in Poland – all of the vaping equipment is imported, mainly from China. Of course there are several individual modders, but their production is limited to dozens of mods per year.

The vaping community in Poland consists of several forums, and vapemeets are organized regularly in many major cities. There is one small vapers' association (SUEP – Stowarzyszenie Użytkowników E-papierosów – E-cigarette Users Association) and one association of e-cig/liquid distributors (STEP), consisting of several smaller companies.

We are very proud of Polish contribution to the research in the field of vaping, which is carried out by a group of chemists and pharmacologists, lead by Professor Andrzej Sobczak (Silesian Medical University). Over the last 3-4 years they have published several important papers concerning the constituents of e-liquid and vapour produced by e-cigarettes.

Since 2014 Warsaw has hosted the Global Forum on Nicotine – one of the most important international meetings of scientists, policymakers and various stakeholders concerned about human health. The third conference will take place in June this year.

TPD implementation

Although the TPD was passed into European Union law in Spring of 2014, the former Polish government was quite reluctant as far as preparing new local laws is concerned. The first draft legislation emerged in June 2014, but then there was almost a year of total silence. The final draft was revealed in October 2015, just before the elections.

Then the political situation in Poland has changed. The elections in October 2015 were won by Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (Law and Justice) Party. A new government has been formed, and we have a new Minister of Health (Dr. Konstanty Radziwiłł).

The new draft law adopted a so-called gold-plating approach in transposing the TPD, including, inter alia, a ban on online and cross-border sales, which was not required by EU law. This is a real disaster for several hundred online shops, which are very popular in Poland. Some of them are quite big. This also means unemployment for many people, usually also being vapers and serving not only as typical salesmen, but also helping new users with the choice of e-cigarettes and, especially, proper nicotine level. What's more, the ban on cross-border sales will affect those experienced vapers who like to test new products offered on the market outside Poland.

Vapers did not remain silent. There have been petitions to the government and President of Poland, signed by several thousand of people concerned. We have also sent group and individual letters to MPs and MEPs. Several hundred people took part in last year's formal consultations of the draft, although these took place in summer, when many people were on holidays.

Sadly, to no avail. The legislators did not take into account even a single suggestion.

The fight continues. We've been supported in several ways by colleagues from other countries. In a few weeks the government will send the final version of the transposition act to the Parliament.

What will happen next? Only time will tell. One thing is certain: united we stand, divided we fall.

NSP Correspondent - Mirosław Dworniczak