EghtesadOnline: Smoking in Iran is at record levels, social observers and national health groups say. Every day more and more people are taking up the habit, some as young as 13 years old, according to the Iranian Anti-Tobacco Association.
A local anti-smoking group estimates 65 billion cigarettes are smoked annually in the country, generating $2.8 billion in revenue in the previous Iranian year.
Reports say 60,000 smokers lose their lives every year either directly or indirectly from passive smoking.
There is, however, an alternative which is making waves in western markets and that is e-cigarettes and vaping, Financial Tribune reported.
A ‘vape’, ‘electronic cigarette’ or ‘e-cig’ is a battery powered hand-held device which uses either nicotine-laced vegetable oil or synthetic oil, a heated coil with a wick drenched in the liquid. The user then presses the ignite button and heats the coil to take a drag. Ultimately it serves the same purpose of a cigarette giving the person a hit of nicotine.
Healthy or Unhealthy?
Little if any research has been done in the Islamic Republic apart from one study looking merely at previous foreign documents at Shahid Beheshti University in 2016, according to e-cig enthusiast website Vaping Post.
In that article, researchers identified 149 papers of which 137 were eligible according to the criteria decided for the expertise, but only 69 were retained for evaluation.
The study found that 34.8% were in support of the null hypothesis, as an efficient and non-harmful method for tobacco cessation and 65.2%% did not support the hypothesis. Another 46.7% were of the opinion that e-cigarettes are not effective in reducing smoking.
In that study, one of Iran’s prestigious centers of higher learning concluded that e-cigarettes were harmful and opposed its promotion as an alternative to smoking regular cigarettes.
However, the website suggested that an agenda was at play in the research study to quell any future interest in the new industry.
Due to a paucity of research on the e-cig devices in Iran, most reports and articles in the Iranian media parrot information from foreign websites. So whether they are illegal or legal in Iran continues to be a gray area. Also, the issue of vaping in Iran is still in its infancy and the government apparently is not entirely aware of the potential trend of the devices.
Internationally, several countries have taken on the new form of smoking in different ways. In the UK, for example, after an initial distrust of the technology, the government accepted the devices and okayed it as a way to cut smoking and loved the boost in tax revenues.
Vaping Industry in Iran
Although relatively new, vaping does have a presence in the online Persian e-commerce world. Currently a Google search gives three front page results directing us to stores who sell well-known brands from Europe and the US like Aspire, Ego and Eleaf.
Prices of the devices are more expensive than in Europe, but the industry looks to be developing looking at several storefronts.
One such company is Taha Ltd (the top search result) which has a large range of different e-cigarettes and vaping machines. Prices range anywhere up to 4.5 million rials ($121) for a SUBOX mini vaping machine, the most expensive electronic cigarette.
According to one US-based vaping store, the same item can be found in that market for $59, making the SUBOX in Iran 68% more expensive.
Fill ‘er Up!
To get continued use of a machine, vapor aficionados must also refill the tank at the top. According to the local online stores, several different brands sell the refill bottles at around 500,000 rials ($13). According to another store, electrosmokeego.ir, there are also several flavored varieties on offer -- even Coca Cola.
As it stands, several stores stand to benefit from the growth in the industry whether it is regulated or not.
Meanwhile, research from Google Trends shows that the term “Cigar Electronic” written in Persian script shows signs of growth over the past twelve months. Going back three years, searches for the term have increased four-fold.
Cigarette companies like British American Tobacco and Korean Tobacco, to name a few, have profited significantly from the weak oversight of sales of cigarettes in Iran in recent years.
However, even BAT has jumped on the e-cig bandwagon after several years of attempts to fight the change in smoking trends.
According to one paid-for study by BAT on the possible growth of e-cigs, the overall conclusion was that by 2050, 32% of smokers in the UK would have formally switched to e-cigarettes.
Dr. James Murphy, head of the study, said after the research, “Our results show an overall benefit of e-cigarettes on a population, reducing smoking prevalence and smoking-related deaths.”