On Thursday 9 December, the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) met for the final time to vote on amendments and the Rapporteur’s report on how to strengthen Europe’s role in the fight against cancer. The report was adopted with 29 MEPs in favour, 1 against, and 4 abstentions. The final report will include 145 compromise amendments which were adopted in their entirety. Among those adopted is compromise amendment 8c which directly relates to safer nicotine products.
The positive news is that the language in the final report acknowledges tobacco harm reduction, and the role safer nicotine products can play in beating cancer, which is a huge step in the right direction. However, as explained below, this is overshadowed by a provision that could see flavours banned by the Commission.
Amendment 8c “Calls on the Commission to pursue the scientific evaluations of the health risks related to electronic cigarettes, heated tobacco products and novel tobacco products, including the assessment of risk of using these products compared to consuming other tobacco products.” The recommendation that the health risks of safer nicotine products should be compared to the risks from smoking is a significant one, as it implicitly calls into question the validity of the widely criticised SCHEER Opinion on E-cigarettes. For its risk assessment the SCHEER had been specifically asked to focus only on the health impacts of vaping products compared to not smoking (see page 10 of the report), resulting in a report that was fatally flawed and not fit for purpose.
In a reference to the harm reduction potential of safer nicotine products the amendment goes on to say: “considers that electronic cigarettes could allow some smokers to progressively quit smoking.” Again, this is a very positive statement and one that is welcomed by tobacco harm reduction advocates. In addition to acknowledging that vaping helps smokers to quit it also recognises that smoking cessation is a process, and that completely switching to safer nicotine products can take time.
However, this is where the positive news comes to an end as the final part of the amendment opens the door to a flavour ban. It reads: “e-cigarettes should not be attractive for minors and non-smokers; therefore, calls on the Commission to evaluate, in the framework of the Tobacco Products Directive, which flavours in e-cigarettes are in particular attractive to minors and non-smokers, and propose a ban on these, as well as on all characteristic flavours in heated tobacco products and novel tobacco products.”
This language is obviously a cause for concern as we know that flavours are crucial to the success of safer nicotine products in smoking cessation, a fact backed up by Eurobarometer data. It also raises questions:
- How would the Commission determine which flavours are particularly attractive to minors?
- Will the evaluation examine the negative impacts a flavour ban would have on adult smoking cessation?
- Will it take into account that the majority of adult smokers who have completely switched from smoking to vaping are using fruit and sweet flavours?
- If a ban on flavours resulted in a decline in youth vaping but an increase in adult smoking, would that be seen as an acceptable trade-off?
The reality is that flavours that appeal to youth also appeal to adults. Restricting adults access to the products they are using to quit smoking and remain smoke free will inevitably lead to an increase in smoking, which would represent a failure in the fight against cancer.
The fate of flavours may be in the balance. If we are to make progress in the fight against cancer we must keep advocating and educating policymakers on the importance of having a wide range of appealing, affordable and accessible low-risk alternatives to smoking.
The BECA report will now move to a vote in plenary at the European Parliament scheduled for 14 February 2022, where it is expected to be approved. The work of the BECA Committee may have finished but the recommendations in its report will have far reaching implications for the TPD and Tobacco Tax Directive. Speaking at the announcement of the vote results, John F Ryan (DG Sante), said that the Commission will carefully analyse the report and that they have a commitment to implement it.