Belgium to ban tobacco vending machines in hospitality industry

Belgium to ban tobacco vending machines in hospitality industry
Credit: Belga

Belgium's Federal Government will soon ban all tobacco vending machines in bars or restaurants, but not in supermarkets which are exempted, the Parliamentary Committee on Public Health decided on Wednesday.

The Federal Government backed a bill by Federal Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke to completely ban tobacco vending machines in the hospitality industry. Federal MP for the Christian-democratic CD&V party Els Van Hoof, who paved the way with a similar bill in 2016, stressed that the ban should especially give minors less easy access to cigarettes.

"Since 2006, those tobacco vending machines must be equipped with a lock via 'agecoins', a kind of token that cannot be given to minors. In practice, however, we see that the tokens are often made available to anyone," she said. Vandenbroucke, too, pointed at "frequent violations" of age coins and stressed that the vending machines create an over-availability of tobacco products at night.

That way, the bill refers to a 2015 opinion of the Superior Health Council, which that stated that tobacco and e-cigarettes should not be sold freely and accessible to anyone, and should instead be limited to tobacco shops and newsagents.

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However, unlike Van Hoof's original bill and the advice of the Superior Health Council, Vandenbroucke does still provide an exception for tobacco vending machines in supermarkets, and refers to the importance of explicit age verification at the checkout.

According to the text, these are "less impulsive" purchases that are "inherent to the addicted smoker's consumption pattern." Even at supermarkets with self-scanning checkouts, shop assistants will still have to carry out explicit age verification.

The ban will not take effect immediately, as "the industry needs time to remove the vending machines first." A definitive timing has not yet been determined.

With the decision, Belgium will follow the example of the Netherlands, among others, where a ban on cigarette vending machines in the hospitality industry has been in place since 1 January 2022. The UK, France, Finland, Norway and Hungary also have similar regulations in place.

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