Fake vaping products and less harmful smoking alternatives are creeping into the emerging e-cigarette market and pose a real health risk to consumers, retailers say.
The market for vaping devices, liquids and e-cigarettes is booming in the UAE after the black-market industry was brought into the mainstream by regulators in April 2019.
Mandatory regulations set by the Emirates Authority for Standardisation and Metrology boosted the uptake of less-harmful alternatives to conventional smoking.
But with smoking still considerably cheaper than the alternatives, tobacco remains the drug of choice for many smokers in the UAE.
While that is slowly beginning to change, an emerging counterfeit market is forcing retailers to warn against the dangers of choosing cheaper, fake non-smoking options.
“The counterfeit market has very low standards and ethics, so don’t really care about people’s health or selling to minors,” said Atif Amin, marketing manager for My Vapery, a chain of 14 nationwide e-cigarette shops.
“They are only interested in maximum profit, and as soon as a new popular brand becomes available in the region there will be counterfeits made.”
New products made with synthetic nicotine, rather than nicotine derived from tobacco leaf, pose new regulatory problems.
Often marketed as "pure" or "tobacco-free", because the nicotine is lab-made, vaping products using synthetic materials are usually flavoured to attract a younger market.
Manufacturers claim that because e-cigarettes using synthetic nicotine are not made with tobacco, they should not be classed as tobacco products, therefore dodging, for example, US Food and Drug Administration regulations.
“Genuine products are made in regulated environments, using certified ingredients and components,” Mr Amin said. “Medical grade nicotine is used. But counterfeit products use cheaper alternatives that may not be safe.
“Because they cut corners with ingredients and manufacturing, they can cause harm.”
Dubai is scheduled to host the region’s largest vaping expo in September.
Organisers hope the World Trade Centre event will encourage more people to switch from tobacco to less harmful alternatives.
“The show is an important platform allowing the industry to analyse itself and the major issues it faces,” said Jake Nixon, World Vape Show’s event manager.
“Hopefully it can educate manufacturers, retailers and vapers on the importance of safety and the need for strong regulations, and more research, to protect consumers.”
While the UAE’s emerging e-cigarette market may be a relatively new target for bootleggers, the tobacco industry continues to battle with dangerous fake products.
A recent report by analysts at KPMG found cigarette consumption continues to decline as smokers turn to less harmful alternatives, but the number of illicit cigarettes sold is on the rise.
The analysis estimated total consumption of cigarettes in the European Union declined by 4.7 per cent in 2020 to 438.8 billion.
It also revealed the number of fake cigarettes sold across the EU almost doubled in 2020, soaring to 10.3 billion cigarettes from 5.5 billion 12 months before.
Fake cigarettes have been found to contain higher levels of toxic components and up to five times the amount of cancer causing chemicals.
Cheaper products usually produce more tar and carbon-monoxide when burned.
One of the largest tobacco producers Philip Morris International Inc (PMI) said bootleggers now threatened the uptake of less harmful smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes.
“Eliminating illicit trade is particularly important within the context of PMI’s transformation toward a smoke-free future,” said Alvise Giustiniani, vice president of illicit trade prevention at PMI.
“We need to continue working in partnerships to address any potential illicit trade threats, including in our novel products.
“Compliance to the law and effective enforcement against criminals profiting from illicit trade is an absolute must.”