Costantini Fausto is enjoying a regular cigarette on a street in Rome. He works for a tobacco company and says the move to tax the electronic version is justified.
“I think it’s a good idea, because fundamentally it’s not a product that does good,” he said.
The price of an e-cigarette in Italy could jump by as much as 58 percent if the bill, a draft of which was submitted to the Council of Ministers at the end of June, is passed.
Those against the measure fear it could destroy a growing industry: 2,000 e-cigarette shops have opened in the past few years, creating 5,000 jobs.
Around 60-70 percent of those shops could close, while as many as 3,000 jobs would be lost if the tax is approved, Massimiliano Mancini, the president of the National Association of Electronic Smoking (Anafe), told newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore in June.
Anafe members protested in Rome on Tuesday, waving banners that read: “We don’t smoke” and “Smoking kills. So does the tax”.
Rafaella Projetti, a tobacco cigarette smoker who sells fruit and vegetables in the capital, described the proposed tax as a “scam” and said it is already just as costly to choose the tobacco-free option.
“A packet of cigarettes costs around €5; the liquid to put inside an electronic cigarette costs around €5,” she explained.
Projetti said that taxes on tobacco cigarettes have had a negative impact on shop owners, as fewer people are buying regular cigarettes. If a tax is levied on e-cigarettes, it could have the same negative impact as the tobacco tax, she added.
Paulo Borelli, a non-smoker who runs a flower stall in Rome, said that the e-cigarette tax was tied to the government’s wider plan for economic growth.
While the government is right to try and move the country forward economically, Borelli said it was acting hastily in introducing new taxes. “It’s dangerous,” he added.
Meanwhile, the use of electronic cigarettes in schools was banned last month.
Invented in China, the battery-powered, pen-sized devices contain liquid nicotine that turns into vapour when inhaled. They are designed to give the user a similar sensation to that of smoking a cigarette.
Their popularity has spiked in recent years although health experts have expressed concerns about chemicals contained within the liquid nicotine, which includes the compound propylene glycol.