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Lubomir Serafimov: Electronic cigarettes are atleast 95% safer than regular cigarettes, if rules in the industry are followed

Lubomir Serafimov: Electronic cigarettes are atleast 95% safer than regular cigarettes, if rules in the industry are followed

Lyubomir Serafimov has a master's degree in international marketing. He graduated from the European College of Economics - Plovdiv. Since 2011 he has been working as a manager of L&A Vape EOOD. He himself has been using e-cigarettes for 12 years.

- Mr. Serafimov, how widespread are e-cigarettes in Bulgaria at the moment?

- About one percent of smokers in Bulgaria currently use e-cigarettes as an alternative to standard ones. Of course, I do not commit to the exact number of consumers of these products in our country.

- What are the advantages and for whom are they intended?

- One of the advantages is that it has been proven that the use of an e-cigarette is up to 95% less harmful than smoking standard cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes do not have a combustion process, which means that most of the harmful substances that are characteristic of smoke are not released from normal cigarettes.

The product is intended for smokers, like other nicotine and tobacco products. They are for adult smokers who try to quit or replace the habit, but fail by offering them a better alternative to smoking. They are certainly not intended for non-smokers.

- What types exist on the market?

- There are many types of e-cigarettes on the market. In general, a standard e-cigarette is a device that has a battery as well as a heating element. The battery supplies the heating element, which in turn evaporates the nicotine liquid. This produces steam that is inhaled by the smoker.

There are e-cigarettes that are disposable or reusable.

"Are there any dangers?"

- The dangers are limited to the fact that it is possible, if consumed by non-smokers or minors, to lead to nicotine addiction. However, this is a nicotine product and should not be used by non-smokers.

- What should consumers be careful about when choosing products and liquids for them?

- First, consumers need to get acquainted with the regulations that apply in Europe, and especially here in Bulgaria. The nicotine liquid, which is available in the form of a refill vial, should be no more than 10 ml. And disposable e-cigarettes or disposable capsules should not contain more than 2 ml of nicotine liquid.

The nicotine content, in turn, or the concentration of nicotine should not exceed 20 mg per 1 ml - or 2%.

Accordingly, consumers need to know who the manufacturer of each product is. This information must be written on the vial label. People also need to know who the trader is from whom they buy the product. It is important that the vials have labels in Bulgarian with instructions for use, including so that they can request information if there is a problem.

- Are there currently products on the Bulgarian market that do not adhere to these rules?

- Yes, there is, in my opinion. Rather, this applies to disposable e-cigarettes, which are currently quite modern. What does not meet the established rules is that the information requirements on the packaging are not met first. It should have a clear warning that the product contains nicotine, which is addictive and not recommended for minors and non-smokers, but this is in many cases not observed.

In addition, the package itself should not contain pictures of fruits and other attractive pictures that provoke associations with a healthy lifestyle. This is also not the case with some products.

The other requirement, which is present in the regulations and the law, requires that the container of e-cigarettes for single use should not be more than 2 ml. However, some have a much larger capacity - 3-4 ml, up to 5-6 ml.

Separately, as we have already said, the nicotine content of liquids should not be more than 2% - or 20 mg per milliliter, which again in some products is not observed, although they are sold commercially. This is a gross violation of the law, which shows ignorance or indifference to compliance by manufacturers, importers or traders of these products.

Only if the legal requirements are met can consumers be sure of the safety of the products they buy and use.

- What is the reason for monitoring supply that does not match the requirements in this industry?

- There is currently a fashion to use e-cigarettes and many retailers who do not deal with such products are starting to offer them. For example, a company that has been involved in construction parts for years is starting to import similar products. So, in my opinion, the non-compliance is mainly due to the ignorance of the traders themselves, who do not know the regulations.

I think that this problem will sooner or later be cleared up, because for many companies this is not the main activity, but they are just doing it right now, because there is interest from consumers and these traders are looking for a quick profit.

On the other hand, there are companies like ours, which have been present on the e-cigarette market for a long time - 10 years. These colleagues, like us, monitor the regulations and keep them in compliance. We notice that they are quite dynamic - every year something new comes out, which we comply with. This is one of the reasons to establish in 2020 the Bulgarian Vape Association of Manufacturers, Importers and Traders of Electronic Cigarettes and Nicotine and Nicotine-Free Liquids. Our aim is to create conditions for maintaining fair and transparent market competition in this industry in Bulgaria, observing all legal requirements for the safety of electronic cigarettes.

- Disposable e-cigarettes are gaining more and more popularity. What is specific about their choice and is there any risk for consumers?

- In the case of disposable electronic cigarettes, the specific thing is that they are much easier to use. For those that are reusable, the user must fill the product with liquid himself. He must unroll the vial and pour the nicotine liquid. When the battery runs out, you have to put it to charge.

For single use, simply open the package and the product is ready for use. When the liquid or battery runs out, the user simply discards the device. Perhaps this is due to their popularity, because they are very easy to use. However, what consumers should be careful about is whether the manufacturer is clear and certain, whether there is complete information in Bulgarian on the packaging, whether the product meets the restrictions for nicotine content and liquid. And most of all, know that most of these products contain nicotine, which is addictive, and are not intended for minors or non-smokers.

- What is the question from an economic point of view - is the use of e-cigarettes profitable for smokers?

- It is profitable, but it depends on the choice of the device. If we talk about those for single use, it is not cheaper than smoking regular cigarettes. Not to mention that it may be more expensive. However, if reusable products are used, they can be recharged repeatedly with liquid, and the battery can be recharged. It may already be cheaper there.

- What is the meaning of the term "responsible supply" when it comes to vape devices?

- Responsible offering means that the trader himself must read very carefully the strict regulations that the Law on Tobacco, Tobacco and Related Products provides. Secondly, sellers should not sell them to persons under 18 years of age.

But at the moment many of the requirements are not met. Even billboard ads should not show the product itself, only the brand. This is also a gross violation.

- Is sales controlled in Bulgaria and how exactly does it happen?

- The control is carried out by the Consumer Protection Commission (CPC). In general, they act on signals. People go and check. I can't say how successful it is, although in addition to e-cigarettes, I've seen normal cigarettes sold to minors. So this is not something new. It's just that e-cigarettes are more popular right now. But if we pass a school, in the break we will see that 90% of students smoke normal cigarettes. Everyone has seen it…

The control mechanisms are the same as for tobacco and alcohol. It is written in the law, but the responsibility falls on the trader. Parents also have a role and some of them allow, and then nothing can be done. The parent himself decided that it was better for the child to use an electronic cigarette instead of a standard one. Some of them buy the product themselves and give it to the child. We do not support such behavior and once again I want to emphasize that e-cigarettes are not harmless, they contain nicotine, which is addictive, as well as a number of other chemicals that are absorbed during use. Minors and non-smokers should not use products that are an alternative to standard cigarette smoking.

The RHI, on the other hand, has the responsibility to control the individual producers by requiring documents, analyzes, etc. from them, but the control of the sales of the end customer and the finished product is carried out by the CPC.

- Many doctors share the opinion that e-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional ones. Do Bulgarian specialists recommend these products to their patients?

- In Bulgaria, in my opinion, doctors are still very far from this topic, unfortunately. But in England, for example, a GP may suggest that a patient replace tobacco cigarettes with e-cigarettes, as the latter have been shown to be up to 95% less harmful. Thus, the doctor himself estimates that if his patient is a smoker and cannot quit, he will benefit much more from the use of e-cigarettes, as they are less harmful than ordinary ones. In the UK, there are even shops in some hospitals that offer patients e-cigarettes.

In Bulgaria, doctors are still not so well known and unless the doctor himself is an e-cigarette user, it is unlikely to recommend this product as less harmful than smoking.

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