On Wednesday 16 February 2022, the European Parliament voted to adopt the final report of the Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA). The report makes a range of recommendations to strengthen Europe’s fight against cancer and is structured around 4 main areas: prevention, screening, equitable access to care, and patient support. The vote followed a plenary debate where the full European Parliament debated the report and tabled amendments. The report was adopted by an overwhelming majority of 652 in favour, 15 against and 27 abstentions (see page 2).
This means that vaping products have, for the first time, been recognised by the EU as helping smokers to quit: The report states that: “electronic cigarettes could allow some smokers to progressively quit smoking,” a clear acknowledgment of the harm reduction potential of safer nicotine products. The report also recommends that risk evaluations must compare safer nicotine products to smoking; calling the SCHEER report into question. This is a huge win for Europe’s 27 million consumers of safer nicotine products, and just reward for the tireless work of tobacco harm reduction advocates and advocacy associations across Europe.
However, the threat remains that the EU may introduce some form of flavour ban, as we reported in December. The report calls on the Commission to evaluate which flavours they deem to be attractive to youth and non-smokers, with the aim of banning those flavours. It’s well established that flavours are intrinsic to the success of vaping as an aid to quit smoking, so any move to ban flavours must consider the unintended consequences that a ban may force current vapers back to smoking, and discourage smokers from even trying vaping.
Although prevention featured prominently throughout the plenary debate, and was a key focus of the report, it was disappointing that only one MEP, Pietro Fiocchi, spoke about the importance of tobacco harm reduction strategies, stating that alternatives to smoking are an important tool to reduce smoking.
When addressing the huge burden on health from smoking both the Rapporteur Véronique Trillet-Lenoir and Commissioner for Health Stella Kyriakides talked about the ambition of achieving a tobacco free Europe by 2040. This is a missed opportunity as by focusing on “tobacco” they aren’t addressing the cause of the harms from smoking, which is combustion. Ms Trillet-Lenoir went on to add that health education on prevention will help Europe avoid 4 in 10 cancers. That point we can certainly agree on, and this is also why smokers should be given accurate information on safer nicotine products.
While there are aspects of the report that could be improved upon, the recognition of tobacco harm reduction is a massive step forward. The report would have looked very different if amendments tabled by the Socialist & Democrat (S&D) group had been accepted. These amendments would have stripped out any language that suggested safer nicotine products help people quit smoking, and paved the way for a full flavour ban. Fortunately, all 6 S & D amendments were rejected (see AM 1 - AM 6).
The slim margin by which some of these anti-harm reduction amendments were rejected makes it clear that there is still more work to be done. As the reviews of the Tobacco Products Directive and Tobacco Excise Directive advance, we have an opportunity to build on the positive aspects of the report and ensure that policymakers are educated and aware of the vital role safer nicotine products can play in preventing cancer.