On Monday 8 November the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer met to debate amendments to the Rapporteur’s draft report. This was the second and final consideration of amendments before a vote in Committee, which is scheduled for 6 December. A recurring theme throughout the meeting was the need for compromise in addressing amendments, particularly in the area of prevention. Worryingly for vapers, the topic of e-cigarettes and flavours featured prominently.
In his opening statement BECA Chair, Bartosz Arłukowicz, announced that he believed there was general agreement for preventative measures such as food labelling and moderate alcohol consumption. However, he singled out e-cigarettes as being “more controversial.” This is an understatement as the approaches suggested for vaping ranged from all out prohibition of flavours (a de facto total ban) to tentative support for vaping and an understanding of the important role flavours play in smoking cessation. That being said, Arłukowicz expressed confidence that the Rapporteur and Shadow Rapporteurs would find a balanced compromise.
Shadow Rapporteur Peter Liese was next to speak. MEP Liese has been supportive of the opportunities presented by vaping throughout the BECA proceedings, tabling amendments which would preserve flavoured vaping products for adults. The MEP once again reiterated previous statements that vaping is much less harmful than smoking, and that flavours DO help adults quit smoking. So, it was concerning to hear him go on to say that flavours such as bubble-gum were “clearly attractive to children” and should be banned.
Another worrying development was the mention of a recent visit to the WHO Headquarters by a number of BECA members, which seems to have cemented some preconceived biases towards tobacco harm reduction. Spanish MEP, Estrella Durá Ferrandis, declared that the visit confirmed what they expected – that vaping was a plot by industry to lure kids. MEP Durá Ferrandis raised an important point at the end of her time, which was that scientific evidence should be the basis of the report. One can only hope that she will also accept science she doesn’t agree with.
Following along the same lines John F Ryan, DG SANTE, added that vaping doesn’t help adults quit smoking and directed MEPs towards the deeply flawed SCHEER Final Opinion (see our article on the SCHEER report here). He went on to suggest that vaping products should be medicalised. It’s worth noting that the SCHEER conclusion on vaping for smoking cessation is in direct contradiction to official EU data in Special Eurobarometer 506, which found a huge rise in the percentage of vapers that had completely quit smoking.
On a more positive note, Rapporteur Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, was the voice of reason. On the issue of risk, she quite rightly pointed out that the elimination of risk is an ideological viewpoint that is not based in reality. What is required, Trillet-Lenoir said, is a progressive and forward-thinking approach which recognises the benefits of reducing risk. Addressing Mr Ryan’s comments directly she said that while vaping products are not 100% effective in smoking cessation, nothing is, they are harm reduction products. However, Ms Trillet-Lenoir also stressed the need for a compromise to be struck to ensure vaping products are not attractive to children. Tomislav Sokol made a similar point saying a balanced approach was needed and cautioned against treating tobacco harm reduction products the same as combustible tobacco.
Compromise was the word of the day during this BECA meeting. However, policymakers must understand that removing flavoured vapour products is not a compromise. What this would entail in real world terms is the removal of products that have helped millions of citizens quit smoking. So, what you are left with is a Cancer Plan that increases smoking and smoking related cancers. Ms Trillet-Lenoir deserves great credit for arguing logically and rationally for the recognition of harm reduction. We can only hope that common sense triumphs at the final vote in Committee on 6 December. If not, BECA’s aspirations to #BeatCancer are doomed to failure.