Will not sell online

#industry news

The Ministry of Agriculture has developed a draft law that will allow pre-trial blocking of websites offering the sale of tobacco and nicotine-containing products. The proposal will be formalized as amendments to the law "On information, information technologies and information protection" (№ 149), a source told RBC in the tobacco market and confirmed in the press service of the ministry.

The remote sale of tobacco and nicotine-containing products (we are talking about electronic cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems, for which the maximum nicotine content in a liquid or solution is legally set at 20 mg / ml) is prohibited by the law “On protecting the health of citizens from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and the consequences tobacco consumption." As explained to RBC in the Ministry of Agriculture, the bill was developed in order to effectively implement the norm and is aimed at blocking domain names, website pages on the Internet, network addresses containing offers to sell such products online. Now the proposals of the ministry are under consideration of the interested departments.

The proposed regulatory mechanism, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, has already proved effective for the alcohol market. In a letter that the ministry sent in early February to the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Digital Development and the Ministry of Industry and Trade (available to RBC), it is noted that “similar regulations regarding alcoholic products <...> have shown their effectiveness, in particular in suppressing and preventing trade through marketplaces ".

How alcohol regulation works

The sale of alcoholic beverages remotely in Russia has been banned since 2007. But Rosalkogolregulirovanie (PAP) only in 2018 received the right to pre-trial blocking of online resources with proposals for the remote sale of alcohol and other alcohol. Pages with illegal information are included in the unified register of sites banned in Russia, which is maintained by Roskomnadzor (RKN). Until June 2018, the RKN made blocking decisions based on service requests. During 2022, 6,430 resources containing offers to sell alcoholic beverages were blocked in Russia, the PAP and RKN data cited earlier.

In response to a request from RBC, the Ministry of Industry and Trade and the Ministry of Economic Development reported that the bill had been submitted for consideration. The Ministry of Industry and Trade conceptually supports the initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture, as it will create the possibility of additional control over compliance with the ban on the remote sale of tobacco and nicotine-containing products. But the ministry considers it necessary to further study the issue of blocking individual Internet pages of suppliers that violate the ban if they are posted on the marketplace website, which is an aggregator for the sale of various goods, the ministry stressed.

Why there are questions about marketplaces and messengers

Earlier, Group-IB analysts calculated that in 2021 (data for 2022 have not yet been updated), the volume of the shadow online market for tobacco and electronic cigarettes in the Russian segment of the Internet amounted to 5.6 billion rubles. Electronic cigarettes and sticks accounted for more than half of the market volume — 2.3 billion and 1.1 billion rubles. respectively. More than 3.5 billion rubles worth of goods were sold through messengers, and 314 million rubles were sold through social networks.

“We can only welcome the establishment of order on the model of the alcohol market, where the risks of closing the entire site force aggregators to carefully comply with the law and prevent the online sale of alcohol,” says one of the participants in the tobacco market. “Until a similar regulation is adopted for nicotine-containing and tobacco products, little attention will be paid to bans,” RBC’s interlocutor is convinced. A similar position is shared by a representative of the International Tobacco Group (formerly the company was called Imperial Brands, it produces the Davidoff, West, Jadé, P&S, Maxim brands and myblu electronic nicotine delivery systems), the company is convinced that we need regulations that oblige owners of electronic resources to identify and block such sales offers. Philip Morris company in Russia (brands Marlboro, Parliament, L&M, IQOS tobacco heating systems) considers the initiative of the Ministry of Agriculture to be an important step to improve the efficiency of law enforcement of the rule banning the remote sale of tobacco and nicotine-containing products.

But the market participants interviewed by RBC believe that the main problem is related to the placement of offers for the sale of tobacco and electronic cigarettes not only in social networks and messengers, but also on marketplaces. In particular, until recently, some of RBC's interlocutors from the professional community called the largest Wildberries marketplace by turnover the place of sale. According to the President of the association "Professional Alliance of participants of the Russian market of electronic nicotine systems" Lev Grigoriev, only at the beginning of January 2023, more than 12 thousand commodity items could be found on the site at the request of "electronic cigarettes", and more than 9 thousand commodity items at the request of "liquids for electronic cigarettes". In early February, Wildberries announced that it would ban the sale of nicotine-free vapes and smoking mixtures, since "unscrupulous sellers could sell nicotine-containing products under the guise of nicotine-free", violating the rules of the site.

Wildberries itself clarified that in the last three weeks the company has withdrawn from sale over 61 thousand offers of nicotine-free vapes, related liquids and smoking mixtures, and also launched a bot program based on artificial intelligence technology that analyzes product cards, product descriptions, images and identifies prohibited products, after which it hides it in the catalog.

Ozon reported that there is a permanent ban on the sale of tobacco products and any nicotine-containing products on the site. The sale of smoking devices is also limited: they must not contain tobacco, nicotine or liquid for electronic cigarettes, including nicotine-free. The product card control system itself consists of automatic and manual moderation. The sale of any liquids and mixtures for smoking is prohibited in Yandex.Market, regardless of the presence of nicotine in them, and a multi-stage system of checks applies to goods, which will not allow publishing a card with such content, the representative of the marketplace said.

According to Lev Grigoriev, sellers of nicotine-containing products will continue to try to place goods on online platforms under the guise of nicotine-free products, he believes that a change in legislation is also required regarding the responsibility of marketplaces for the availability of such products so that they are also interested in blocking. Grigoriev is also convinced that the new restrictions will require special attention and regular work with social networks and websites. "Studying the issue of illegal sales, market participants with whom "Professional Alliance of participants of the Russian market of electronic nicotine systems" interacts collected over 350 links to such sales groups in three days, in particular, only in VKontakte — 191 links (55% of the total number). Illegal sellers of nicotine-containing products will continue to have a desire to continue illegal sales on online platforms, which means that there may only be more such groups with stricter regulation," he explains.

A representative of the VKontakte social network assured that the team promptly blocks groups and profiles that contain information about sales of nicotine-containing products, according to complaints from regulators and users. Only online representations of tobacco stores or stores with nicotine-containing products can legally exist on the site, if there is no advertising of tobacco or nicotine-containing products, smoking accessories, as well as information about their remote sale in the Russian Federation, the source added.

RBC has asked Telegram and Instagram for comments (the owner of the social network, Meta, is recognized as an extremist organization in Russia and banned).