The Netherlands prohibits internet sales of tobacco. In a new wave of legislation, the Dutch government is prohibiting the sale of tobacco on the World Wide Web starting in 2023. It is one of the many steps to come to a smoke-free generation in 2040. Where most of the legislation so far doesn’t make sense, the new steps do. Because the prohibition of online sales is the start of the next phase.
Tobacco in supermarkets
The Netherlands has many points of sales for tobacco, an estimated 13.000 Tobacco retailers, convenience shops, gas stations, vending machines, and supermarkets. In previous articles about legislation, Ministry of Cigars already suggests that instead of plain packaging, reducing the number of points of sales would be a better course of action. And that is happening as well. From 2022, vending machines are prohibited. Starting in 2023, tobacco is no longer to be sold online. A year later supermarkets are banned from selling tobacco products. That reduces the points of sales by 50%.
Gas stations are getting a pass from the ban on tobacco sales. They are allowed to sell tobacco until 2030. As for tobacco convenience stores, the Dutch government is still looking into legislation for those kinds of stores. There are approximately 1500 tobacco convenience stores in The Netherlands, operating under different franchise concepts such as Primera, Bruna, Tabak & Gemak, Vivant, and Cigo. Some of these convenience stores have a decent selection of premium handmade cigars, yet most sell just cigarettes and machine-made cigars. The difference between tobacconists and tobacco convenience stores is the percentage of turnover they receive from tobacco. If it’s 75% or more, the government sees you as a tobacconist. Less than 75% turnover from tobacco makes the store a tobacco convenience store.
Sasja van Horssen, the largest independent importer and distributor of premium cigars, supports the prohibition of internet sales. His Cigaragua and Van Dalen Cigars shops have an online presence, yet he understands the need for the legislation. “90% of the online shops refused to pay a little extra for shipping with age-verification. Internet sales are now a way for underaged people to get tobacco. Something needs to be done. If this is what it takes, then it is what it is. In the end, real tobacconists will profit from the new set of legislation due to the end of supermarket sales. We lose a little, but gain a lot.”
Tom Winkelman from sigarenroker.nl shares the sentiment. He says that in the end all tobacco will be sold through specialized tobacconist. That is a bigger win than the loss of online sales. “Because of the free character of the internet, the Dutch government doesn’t accept a webshop as a specialized tobacconist. That’s what we have to accept.”
With the ban on online sales, The Netherlands is following countries such as Belgium and Singapore. They are amongst the few countries where online tobacco sales are prohibited for the longest time. Malysia recently started enforcing the ban on online tobacco sales as well.