Nicotine and Society: A brief report from a seminar in the European Parliament

Last year, the Brussels Times and the Environment and Public Health Institute – EPHI, organised a seminar on new tobacco-free nicotine products and the upcoming revision of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), which regulates tobacco and nicotine products in all EU Member States. The seminar was held in the European Parliament.

One part of the program was “Lessons Learned – How did TPD2 address nicotine products and should there have been more of harm reduction perspective”.

Former members of the European Parliament (MEP), Christofer Fjellner, Sweden, and Chris Davies, UK, shared their lessons learned from the development of the current Tobacco Products Directive.

Both agreed that there was a clear desire to regulate tobacco products more strictly but that there was a debate as to whether all tobacco and nicotine products should be treated equally. The UK was insistent that not all products could be treated the same, for example, regarding e-cigarettes and traditional tobacco cigarettes. The European Commission was skeptical:

“You know, ten years later, in comes the second attempt to tighten up on tobacco controls. And part of that project was the European Commission doing its very best to stamp out the growing use of electronic cigarettes or vaping. With the full backing of most governments across Europe, some of which had already introduced their bans. And the very strong backing of the World Health Organization, which I know, did a presentation to Parliament saying, you know, vaping will just allow more people to die in vast numbers. And you know, some of those challenged this and said, but I’ve got letters from constituents saying I’ve been trying to give up smoking for years and years and years and nicotine patches, none of them work but vaping. I mean, I’m still addicted to nicotine, but I can breathe, and I don’t feel I’m dying by doing it.”, former MEP Chris Davies said.

In a way, there are risk reduction elements in the current Directive. For example, flavored tobacco was banned, but not flavored e-cigarettes. Former MEP Fjellner said that a similar approach should be taken when drafting the new directive:

“As long as you are not prepared to ban all tobacco products, it would be unreasonable to ban products that for some may be a way out of tobacco products […] I would urge all my former colleagues to look at it objectively and carefully and say: let’s tighten the screws most on the most dangerous products and then make sure we don’t tighten too much on those things that may actually be a way out for smokers. Finding the right balance is the hard part.”

Jindrich Voboril: What can other member states learn?

Over the past year, the Czech government has embraced risk reduction. The starting point of their strategy is that it is impossible to create a society free of risks or addictions, whether it is nicotine, alcohol, or gambling. Czech National Drug Coordinator Jindřich Vobořil was invited to share the Czech government’s views on the matter.

“Then we need to say what kills. Addictions don’t kill. Addiction is something from my point, as a psychologist and psychotherapist, is something that is quite usual for people and quite normal for people. To say to people ‘have no addictions’ means that, or to push people not to have addictions, means we will want people to be robots. I think this is a wrong concept for how we should work with people. I’m not talking about just freedom. I’m talking about basic psychological principles. What we have to work with is the risks attached to addictions.” Czech National Drug Coordinator Jindřich Vobořil said and continued:

“So I think finally I want to say not revising tobacco directives from a harm reduction perspective means to take responsibility to keep letting people die for no particular reason.”

Skyttedal and Fiocchi: Is there room for a harm reduction approach in TPD3?

MEP Sara Skyttedal, Sweden, and MEP Pietro Fiocchi, Italy, discussed how new nicotine products should be regulated in the new Tobacco Products Directive, TPD. Both supported a risk reduction approach. Among other things, Sweden was raised as an example of a country where people use about the same amount of nicotine as in the rest of Europe, but in different ways. The number of smokers is low compared to the rest of Europe, which means tobacco-related harm is also lower in Sweden.

Skyttedal pointed out that legislators must understand that it is primarily tobacco-related mortality and cancer that must be tackled. She meant that new nicotine products need to be regulated but not over-regulated, although she was not convinced that the European Commission shared the view:

“However, I’m not that optimistic when it comes to the commission’s willingness to change their perspective and to move towards the harm reduction point of view. And in the revision of both the Tobacco Excise Directive and the Tobacco Products Directive. I think it was pretty much highlighted when I asked the commission a written question, how they see the ban on the Swedish lip tobacco snus in light of their anti-cancer plan. And I got an ignorant answer claiming that tobacco for oral use is addictive and has adverse health effects, including cancers, which is scientifically false. I mean, it’s been 20 years since it’s no longer allowed to claim on these products that they are causing cancer because there’s no scientific claim to be made of such things. And still, to this day, the European Commission insists on using this as an argument, which I think tells us that they’re not going to have any interest in having a more positive approach towards nicotine products that aren’t including tobacco.”

More to watch

The whole seminar can be seen on the Brussels Times website.

The Czech Republic’s strategy for new tobacco product – What can other member states learn?

  • Jindřich Vobořil – Czech Republic’s National Drug Coordinator

How should TPD3 address new nicotine products? – Is there room for a harm reduction approach in TPD3?

  • Pietro Fiocchi – Member of the European Parliament – ECR/Italy
  • Sara Skyttedal – Member of the European Parliament – EPP/Sweden

Lessons Learned – How did TPD2 address nicotine products and should there have been more of a harm reduction perspective?

  • Chris Davies – Former Member of the European Parliament – Renew Europe/Great Britain
  • Christofer Fjellner – Former Member of the European Parliament – European Peoples Party/Sweden

New nicotine products an opportunity or a threat to public health? – What are the health implications of new nicotine products?

  • Fredrik Nystrom – Professor/Medical Doctor at Linkoping University – Presenting new research on the health effects of nicotine

Nicotine and Sustainability – Can sustainable investors properly assess new nicotine products

  • Malin Lindfors Speace – CEO & Senior Advisor, Ethos
  • Gavin O’ Dowd – CEO, Haypp Group