On July 11, the authoritative Italian consumer organization Altroconsumo pointed out on its official website that they purchased 15 e-cigarettes of different brands for testing in the official e-cigarette online stores and e-commerce platforms in Italy, and such product brands include BECOMATE, ELFBAR, GEEKBAR, LIKBAR, PUFFBAR, REVOLTAGE, SALTSWITCH, VUSE, X-BAR.
The test data showed that only ELFBAR, VUSE, BECOMATE, GEEKBAR and LIKBAR e-cigarettes were certified compliant by the Customs Department and the Monopolies Agency (Adm) and could be legally sold in Italy. On the other hand, the e-cigarettes from PUFFBAR, REVOLTAGE, SALTSWITCH and X-BAR, in addition to not having been certified as compliant, also have excessive nicotine levels and no warning labels.
Altroconsumo noted that they have submitted this product violation to the Italian Customs Department and Monopolies Agency, the Ministry of Enterprises and Manufacturing, and the Ministry of Environment and Energy Safety.
Only 5 of the 15 e-cigarettes underwent full compliance certification
Of this 15 e-cigarettes, only 5 (e-cigarettes from ELFBAR, VUSE, BECOMATE, GEEKBAR and LIKBAR) contain the Customs Department and Monopolies Agency’s compliance certification mark.
The remaining 10 (e-cigarettes from PUFFBAR, REVOLTAGE, SALTSWITCH, X-BAR) are not registered with the Customs Department and Monopolies Authority compliance and cannot be marketed in Italy, but it is still possible to buy them on official e-cigarette online stores and e-commerce platforms without any age verification. This includes the Amazon platform, Altroconsumo wrote in the article:
“Although at the time of writing it has removed the product from the link where we purchased it.”
Three of PUFFBAR’s products have excessive levels of vape oils
According to the test data, three of PUFFBAR’s e-cigarette products (PUFFBARMango, PUFFBARFlow>LycheeIce, PUFFBARPlusLycheeIce) not only do not have a compliance certification mark, but they also have exceeded the limits of nicotine content and tank capacity.
The nicotine content on the PuffBarMango label is 5% (equivalent to 50 mg per ml of tobacco oil), whereas the legal maximum is 2% (equivalent to 20 mg/ml).The tanks of PuffBarFlow>LycheeIce and PuffBarPlusLycheeIce are 3.5 ml and 6.5 ml, respectively, whereas the legislation stipulates that The volume must not exceed 2 ml (moreover, every 5% of nicotine content is indicated on the site; then the percentage allowed in Italy is 2% and needs to be indicated on the package).
Four out of seven e-commerce platforms do not have age verification
In Italy, regulations require that the sale of nicotine products to minors be prohibited, so websites need to verify the age of the consumer.Altroconsumo shows in his article that when they purchased e-cigarettes on these online platforms, four out of seven sites (Puffbar.eu/it, It.salt-switch.com, X-bar.co/it, Amazon.it) are not enabled for age verification, and the remaining three (vaporoso.it, geekbar-shop.it, vuse.com/it) usually require the uploading of an ID and tax code.
In accordance with Italian Legislative Decree 6/2016, buyers selling tobacco products (including new generation products such as heated tobacco), e-cigarette products or vape oils must meet the age requirement. Unless the age of the buyer is obvious, the seller must ask for relevant documents for verification. The notice from the Customs and Monopolies Authority (N.39/2022) also extends this requirement to products that do not contain nicotine. For online retailers, requesting the relevant documentation is an obligation, given that it is not possible to determine the age of the buyer.
“Does not contain tobacco nicotine” may be false advertising
The original e-cigarette products contained free nicotine (or base nicotine): extracted from tobacco leaves and purified through various chemical treatments to produce aerosols perceived as irritating and bitter, giving a so-called throat irritation that may not be preferred.
Unbeknownst to the public, disposable e-cigarettes can contain nicotine salts or synthetic nicotine.
Nicotine salts are obtained by adding acidic additives (e.g., benzoic acid) to free nicotine, and they improve the inhalation experience because the aerosol is less irritating to the throat. As a result, there is less perception of nicotine even at high concentrations. For those non-smokers and young people, the more popular e-cigarette products containing nicotine salts on the market may encourage them to start and sustain smoking.
In addition to this, preliminary verification suggests that nicotine salts are more readily and more rapidly absorbed by the body than free nicotine products because they are less volatile (i.e., they diffuse less in the air, thus allowing more nicotine to enter the lungs).
Synthetic nicotine, on the other hand, is used in certain e-cigarette products such as PUFFBAR: it is not extracted from tobacco leaves like free nicotine and nicotine salts, but needs to be synthesized in a lab, hence the difference. There are two forms of nicotine: S-nicotine and R-nicotine. Natural nicotine (found in tobacco leaves) is about 99% S-nicotine, while synthetic nicotine contains 50% S-nicotine and 50% R-nicotine. Unknown to date, the health effects of R-nicotine in this disposable e-cigarette are unknown.
Altroconsumo noted that the e-cigarette products purchased did not clearly identify the type of nicotine contained in the device (whether it was salts, free or synthetic nicotine). It is assumed that the “smokeless nicotine” labeling used on PUFFBAR products indicates the presence of synthetic nicotine (a potentially misleading expression that is almost essentially a “nicotine-free product” but is actually the U.S. definition of synthetic nicotine). According to an article published in the journal Tobacco Control, PUFFBAR has patented this nicotine in order to avoid including it in the category of FDA-controlled tobacco products in the United States.
11 products not labeled with health warnings
Altroconsumo said that because of the health risks associated with e-cigarettes, disposable e-cigarettes are required by law to provide a portion of the instructions regarding the health and safety aspects of these products on labels and information sheets in Italian. For example, instructions for use and storage, information that the product is not suitable for use by young people and non-smokers, and a warning that “products containing nicotine, a substance that is highly addictive. Not for use by non-smokers,” and so on.
Four of the five compliant products (i.e. with the Italian Customs and Monopolies Agency marking) complied with the health labeling regulations.
However, one (GEEKBAR) had an information leaflet in French, so it could not be sold on the Italian market.
Ten non-regulated products also failed to comply with health labeling regulations. In particular, in six nicotine-containing products, health information and warnings were provided in other languages (French, English or German) on the label and in the internal information leaflet. Of these, three PUFFBAR devices had relatively concise information sheets.
In addition to this, they are prohibited for use by minors under the age of 21, rather than 18 as required by Italian law. The other four nicotine-free products do not provide the health warning required by their Italian regulations – “This product may contain substances harmful to health. For more information, please call the Italian health department’s green number 800554088”
Only 3 products are WEEE-compliant
Despite much confusion, disposable e-cigarettes are considered e-waste devices when depleted and are subject to the requirements of WEEE (the EU recycling directive). The test found that only 3 products were qualified (ElfBarVapePen, LikBarCottonCandy and VuseGoBluberryIce), and the manufacturers or importers of these products, all of which are located in Italy, are the only ones registered with WEEE. It is worth noting that vaporoso.it, the online platform that sells ELFBAR, is also registered.
These three products are also the only ones to have the WEEE waste garbage can symbol on the label in a sufficiently large size and to provide guidelines for proper disposal in the instructions.