Although JUUL, the electronic cigarette with substantial amounts of addictive nicotine, has been barred from sale in Europe and is addicting many youngsters in the US, the Health Ministry has not done anything to prevent its import to Israel or even restrict its use.
JUUL, which looks like a disk-on-key device, contains 59 milligrams of nicotine for every milliliter of liquid – much more of the drug than the six mg. to 30 mg. contained in other e-cigs. They can be purchased by individuals of any age, even children, in almost three dozen stores in five cities, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan, and not only at tobacconists but also at special “vape shops” that are opening and becoming popular. They can also be smoked anywhere and advertised without limits.
JUUL is “addictive and dangerous to individual and public health in Israel,” said Dr. Hagai Levine, of the Association of Public Health Physicians and the Medical Society for the Prevention and Smoking. “Experience in the US teaches us that the product is aimed especially at youngsters, who are especially susceptible to nicotine addiction.”
“There is a real danger that the massive penetration of this product without any regulatory limitations will lead to increased use also of conventional cigarettes among youths and cause addiction, illness and deaths,” he said on Wednesday.
Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Health Minister and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must “take the state comptroller’s recent report severely critical of Litzman, the Health Ministry and the rest of the government’s failure to struggle against smoking and deal with the penetration of tobacco and nicotine products into Israel,” Levine said.
Urgent legislation must be initiated by the Health Ministry to this end, he said, adding: “I see no determination by Litzman to protect public health. He is just standing aside. He can initiate regulatory legislation. If he has a lack of tools, he must act in accordance with the law.”
In response, Health Ministry spokesman Eyal Basson said as part of the bill promoted by the ministry together with MK Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), electronic cigarettes can be declared equivalent to tobacco products so that all existing and new restrictions, such as preventing sale to those under 18, will apply.
In 2002, he said, the Supreme Court ruled that the Health Ministry has no authority in existing legislation to prevent the import or restriction of marketing of e-cigs and that the current legislation on tobacco products does not apply to them. However, Basson did not explain why the ministry has not taken action since 2002 against e-cigs and to outlaw JUUL as it has been in Europe.
Produced in attractive colors and fruit and other flavors, the piece of plastic is thin and can easily been hidden from adults. The initial product costs about NIS 120, and a pack of four liquid fillers goes for NIS 70. One filler, equal in nicotine to a pack of cigarettes, can be finished in a day by a heavy JUUL smoker.
The manufacturers have claimed that their product is “a safer alternative to cigarettes,” but this has not been proven.