Tobacco harm reduction news from Europe
The tax directive consultation is out - time for you to give your views on taxation for safer alternatives to smoking. The Swedish government is proposing a flavour ban for e-liquids. Germany is advancing with their tax plans, which will make vaping more expensive than smoking. Customs seizures of smuggled snus reached a record high in Finland. Read on for more on that and lots of other news.
Tobacco Tax public consultation
The second public consultation into the review of the Tobacco Taxation Directive has just opened. It will run until 22 June, and is in the form of a questionnaire.
To ensure that safer nicotine products remain affordable it is vitally important that consumers and THR advocacy associations make their voices heard loud and clear. The consultation is available in most official EU languages, and is open to citizens and organisations. Organisations must be registered on the EU Transparency Register. Individuals need to register for a EU Login. We will publish more guidance for the consultation soon.
Link for the general consultation page:
Tobacco taxation – excise duties for manufactured tobacco products (updated rules)
Link for the public consultation:
Tobacco taxation – excise duties for manufactured tobacco products (updated rules)
There has been some more analysis of the Eurobarometer report, published last month. Our article highlighted that there has been a 121% increase in the amount of people who successfully quit smoking using safer nicotine products. You can read that here:
Vapers Finland finds that: "by far the most popular tobacco and nicotine products are smokeable cigarettes, which have been tried by about half and are now used by about a quarter of Europeans. Based on these figures, there is still widespread interest in tobacco and nicotine products in Europe, and by far the most common option is by far the most harmful."
Eurobarometri-tutkimus: Yhä useammat eurooppalaiset lopettaneet tupakoinnin sähkösavukkeiden avulla / Eurobarometer survey: More and more Europeans have stopped smoking with e-cigarettes
Christopher Snowdon wrote that the survey revealed “widespread ignorance about e-cigarettes”:
Vaping’s image problem in the EU
Nikan agreed, and called on Norwegian public health authorities to act: Noe har gått galt. E-sigaretter har et dårlig rykte, ikke bare i EU, men også i Norge / Something went wrong. E-cigarettes have a bad reputation, not only in the EU, but also in Norway
Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan - overview and reactions
The European Parliament Research Service published a briefing on the Plan. The briefing is intended to help MEPs in their parliamentary work and includes comments on the Plan from stakeholders. ETHRA’s comments on the Plan and a link to our article are included in the briefing :
Europe's Beating Cancer plan, Quick overview and initial reactions page 10
Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan Webinar
A virtual debate on the Plan was held on Wednesday 3 March, hosted by the Kangaroo Group and involving MEPs and a range of experts. The debate mainly focused on the Plan in general but there were some positives for tobacco harm reduction.
Croatian MEP Tomislav Sokol questioned the Commission’s negative stance towards safer nicotine products (SNPs):
“Even so, much of the scientific evidence and the experts does not and do not share such negativity. They say that harm reduction measures can help while the ECJ says there is no certainty about the effects of harm reduction. We must give consumers a real choice, but I believe that the plan is a good starting point for these discussions.”
He added that the Special Committee for Beating Cancer (BECA) is preparing a report which will include a special study on vaping.
The quote of the day came from an unlikely source, Thomas Hartung from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. It was his view that SNPs could be the “game changer” when it comes to tackling lung cancer, stating that the scientific consensus is that SNPs carry just 3 to 5% of the risk of smoking. He went on to voice his concerns about flavours, specifically in an unregulated market. Ironically, an unregulated market is what we will get if the Commission’s Cancer Plan proposals are acted upon.
As if to balance out the previous common sense positions on tobacco harm reduction, speakers Despina Spanou from the European Commission and Dr Nuno Sousa from Portugal insisted that a hard-line approach was the only option. Sousa then added, quite unbelievably, that “tobacco alternatives [safer nicotine products] should not be seen as being any less harmful [than smoking]”.
Health Council discusses Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan
An informal video conference of Health Ministers took place on 16 March where the Cancer Plan was the first item on the agenda. In advance of the conference ETHRA wrote to all Brussels based Permanent representations of the Ministries of Health to protest at the anti-THR elements in the Plan, and to warn of the unintended consequences of acting on those proposals.
Ministers universally expressed their support and commitment to the Plan. Contributions directly relating to tobacco control came from the Netherlands, Hungary, Denmark and Malta, all wanting tougher measures for vaping products. France spoke about the need for a smoke free generation.
MEP attitudes to safer nicotine products
The recent publication of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and the SCHEER Preliminary Opinion on e-cigarettes have given many consumers of safer nicotine products an uneasy feeling that stricter regulations are on the way. These reports will influence the TPD review report, which is due in May. Both reports are hostile to Tobacco Harm Reduction and both are at odds with science .
ECigIntelligence conducted a survey of MEPs to gauge their knowledge and attitude to safer nicotine products. The survey was sent to all 705 MEPs, but just over 30 replied. The survey revealed that MEPs with knowledge of safer nicotine products were more aware of their public health benefits, and were more likely to favour a progressive approach to regulation. The findings emphasise the importance of engaging with MEP’s and educating them about safer nicotine products.
Summary of the key findings:
SCHEER held their 17th plenary meeting on 3 - 4 of March and discussed the adoption of the Final Opinion of their e-cigarettes report. Comments received during the public consultation and the main changes in the final Opinion were presented.
The Working Group will address the comments and submit the Final Opinion for adoption by written procedure:
Minutes from the 12 March meeting of the Working Group on e-cigarettes:
The Preliminary Opinion had received a lot of criticism. Important studies were omitted and potential harms of vaping were overstated. You can read ETHRA’s submissions to the public consultation here
The WHO continued their onslaught on safer nicotine products in a report from the Europe regional office: Through a gender lens: women and tobacco in the WHO European Region (2021). According to the report, tobacco use among women is falling at a much slower rate than in men, and is increasing in some EU regions. To address this disparity the report provides policy recommendations that, they say, will “take a gender lens to tobacco control”. Recommendations include flavour bans, extending smoke free legislation to prohibit SNP use, taxation and graphic health warnings. As with previous recommendations by the WHO, mentioned in our articles here and here, this is an attack on safer nicotine products which will keep people smoking and ultimately favour the cigarette industry.
Sunday 21 March saw the launch of the Right2Switch petition by THR advocates in the Asia-Pacific region, led by the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA). The launch took place during the second Voices4Vape webinar. The petition asks the WHO and health authorities around the world to regulate based on sound scientific facts and to include consumers in the decision making process. Show your support by signing and sharing the petition.
Why Bans of Low-Risk Nicotine Alternatives to Smoking in LMICs Will Do More Harm Than Good
The International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO) released a policy report condemning The Union’s recommendations to ban safer nicotine products in lower and middle income countries. The effects of such a ban would be disastrous for a region that is home to 80% of those most at risk from smoking or other high-risk forms of tobacco. Read INNCO’s report here
Narodne Novine reported that from 1 March excise duty on heated tobacco products will increase from HRK 800 (€106) to HRK 1,400 (€185) per KG, after the adoption of the Decree on the level of excise duty on tobacco products. Good news for vapers, excise duty on e liquid is nil.
ECigIntelligence has reported that a proposal to introduce excise duty at a rate of DKK2 (€0.27) per ml on nicotine-containing e-liquids may get a hearing in March. If adopted, the tax will apply from 1st July 2022.
Yle News reported that over 7000 kg of snus has been seized by customs, the highest amount ever. In response to extra restrictions at the border due to COVID-19, and the increased risk of getting caught, smugglers have raised the street price of snus. Governments need to understand that prohibition doesn’t stop the sale of a product, it simply drives it underground.
Despite fierce opposition the Federal Cabinet approved the Draft law to modernise the Tobacco Tax Act without debate. The Draft will now pass to Parliament. If enacted, the legislation will drastically increase the price of e-liquids, making it far more expensive to vape than smoke.
Some of the comments made on the draft bill have been published by the Ministry of Finance.
The draft law is here.
Read more at these links:
Last year a staggering 23,207 e-cigarette products were seized by customs officers, nra.lv reports. Cross-border and national distance sales of nicotine containing products are prohibited in Latvia, making it an offence to ship these products by mail. Despite the threat of a fine of up to €210, e-cigarettes and liquids were discovered in 92% of all shipments.
The long running saga to introduce the TPD in Norway and allow for the legal sale of nicotine containing vapour products continues. After two consultations for the development of new legislation for e-cigarettes in 2016, available here and here, it was expected that legislation would be enacted by 1 July 2017. However, a series of posponments means Norwegian vapers are still in limbo. According to consumer association NDS, regulations are unlikely to be in place before 2022. Vapers can still import products but it remains a lottery with customs.
Sweden is home to the oldest tobacco harm reduction product in history, snus, the use of which dates back over 200 years. Sweden has benefited greatly from THR and has the lowest smoking prevalence in the EU. Only 7% of Swedes regularly smoke compared to the EU average of 23%, according to the most recent Eurobarometer report. However, nicotine use is around the EU average as 20% of the population use snus or nicotine pouches and 2% vape.
It now looks as if the Swedish government is intent on pursuing a hardline anti-THR approach by introducing harsher restrictions on non-combustible products. In their new Alcohol, Narcotics, Doping and Tobacco (ANDT) strategy the government suggests that "the possibility of banning or otherwise regulating the flavorings in e-cigarettes should be analyzed". Read more at these links:
The UK’s consultation on the review of the TRPR closed on 19 March. Having left the EU this review offers an opportunity for the UK to diverge from TPD. Divergence from some of the more regressive aspects of the TPD (nic limits, bottle and tank limits, excessive warning labels, ban on snus) would benefit not just the UK but the EU as a whole. At a time when safer nicotine products are under constant attack we hope that the UK will stand as an example to the rest of Europe as a world leader in tobacco harm reduction.
You can read ETHRA’s submission here
More from the UK
On Tuesday 23 March parliamentarians debated ‘Smoke-free Society by 2030’ in the House of Commons. The arbitrary restrictions on safer nicotine products, imposed as a result of the TPD, were rightly called out. The debate focused on the unique position the UK now finds itself in where they can set their own regulations on safer nicotine products, without the constraints of the EU, and take full advantage of the harm reduction potential of all safer nicotine products.
Mr David Jones, Conservative MP for Clwyd West. ‘Smoke-free Society by 2030’ debate.
A transcription of the debate is available from Hansard
Adoption of the SCHEER Final Opinion on e-cigarettes is expected in mid-April.
A meeting of the coordinators of the Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) will take place on 7 April, from 10:30am - 12:30pm. This is also the deadline to send the Draft Report for translation. The updated calendar of BECA meetings can be found here
Something to watch:
Dr Ernest Groman, Scientific Director of the Nicotine Institute Vienna, gives an insightful talk on smoking cessation and safer nicotine products. As a proponent of tobacco harm reduction, Dr Groman sees the huge potential of safer nicotine products in helping those that find it difficult to quit smoking. In this press conference at the Nicotine Institute in Vienna Groman calls for information about substitute products and presents recommendations for a Europe-wide uniform legal regulation.
German speakers can catch the video here
Vaping Demystified is a must watch video from Yorkshire Cancer Research. Experts examine the truth about vaping and the impact misinformation can have in the fight against lung cancer.
In this fascinating video, VapingVaccineForTobacco, Dr John Oyston suggests that vaping could be a vaccine which protects against the harms of smoking. He also addresses the litany of false claims made against vaping, often by medical professionals.