Panama Supreme Court agrees to hear lawsuit on 'unconstitutional' e-cig ban

Panama Supreme Court agrees to hear lawsuit on 'unconstitutional' e-cig ban

Panama’s Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit that claims the country’s 2022 ban on electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco is unconstitutional – a move seen as a positive first step by tobacco harm reduction groups in the Central American nation.

In early August, the Panamanian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (ARDTP) presented a lawsuit to the Supreme Court arguing that Law 315, which bans the use, sale and import of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco in the country, is unconstitutional and should be repealed.

Then, on 21st September, the Supreme Court elected to move forward with the claim presented by the ARDTP. The court is expected to debate the constitutionality of the ban over the coming months.

“If the court agrees to hear a case, it’s because it has determined there is sufficient evidence to support a claim,” Tomas Sanchez, president of the ARDTP, told ECigIntelligence. “The court will now review the evidence we presented that reinforces our claim of unconstitutionality, verify it and determine if we are correct or not.”

Sánchez explained that, should the Supreme Court determine the unconstitutionality claim is valid, Law 315 would be returned to the country’s Legislative Assembly to be revised. Once modified by the Legislative Assembly, the law would be returned to the Supreme Court to be validated as constitutional or not.

He added that, if the Supreme Court determines the law should be repealed, the Legislative Assembly would have to draft new legislation to supplant Law 315.

Calls for ‘risk-based regulation’

“The ban is not only unconstitutional, but it is also damaging the public health of the country,” Sanchez said. “It needs to be overturned by the Supreme Court of Justice and the Panamanian government needs to pass a risk-based regulation for alternative nicotine products.”

Law 315, which passed on 30th June 2022, prohibits the use, import and sales of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), e-cigarettes, vapes, heated tobacco devices and similar devices, whether or not they contain nicotine.

Among a series of restrictions, the law prohibits use in all forms, and orders tobacco-related businesses to hang a visible sign on the exterior of their operations detailing the ban on these devices.

Panama is one of several countries in Latin America – including Mexico, Argentina and Venezuela – that have passed stringent legislation since 2022 to limit the use, sales, import and export of these products.

But many regional advocacy groups, which claim alternative devices reduce tobacco use, say the passage of such legislation creates a black market for the products within their countries.

The decision by the Panamanian Supreme Court to hear the lawsuit is a positive first step, according to the World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA).

Alberto Gomez Hernandez, WVA community manager for Spain and Latin America, told ECigIntelligence: “We hope the Supreme Court of Panama will review the scientific evidence on vaping, listen to users and declare Law 315 of 2022 unconstitutional. The ban is clearly not working. It needs to be overturned by the Supreme Court, and the government needs to adopt an open approach towards alternative nicotine products.”