MEPs raise concern over EU committee’s findings on electronic cigarettes

So-called SCHEER Committee was asked to focus on health impacts of e-cigarettes.

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

30 Apr 2021

MEPs have given a mixed reaction to the findings of the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) which has released its final opinion on electronic cigarettes.

The Committee, in a report issued on Thursday, said it had reviewed the “most recent scientific and technical information” on electronic cigarettes.

SCHEER was asked to focus only on the health impacts of electronic cigarettes, compared to non-smoking.

It concludes that the risk to health of electronic cigarettes is what it calls “moderate”.

It also says there “is no specific data” that specific flavourings used in the EU pose health risks for electronic cigarette users “following repeated exposure.”

But it adds, “There is strong evidence that nicotine in e-liquids is implicated in the development of addiction and that flavours have a relevant contribution for attractiveness of use of electronic cigarette and initiation.”

The Committee also states that the argument that electronic cigarettes are effective in helping smokers to quit is “weak” while there is evidence that electronic cigarettes are a “gateway to smoking” for young people.

“The Commission has emphasised, rightly so, the need for science when dealing with e-cigarettes and other new products. However, there seems to be a disconnect across Europe on the science - SCHEER and Public Health England for example seem to come to different conclusions. Europe has a commitment to science” ECR Group MEP Pietro Fiocchi

Its report says, “Electronic cigarettes are relatively new in terms of exposure to humans and more research is needed, in particular on long-term health effects.”

SCHEER acknowledges that many of the studies they utilise deal with data from the United States. While saying that products in the US “may differ considerably from those sold in the EU and conclusions drawn for the US may not be directly transferable to the EU,” SCHEER, at the same time, says “trends may spill over into the EU.”

On cessation, it says there “is evidence that electronic cigarettes help smokers to stop smoking in the long term compared with placebo electronic cigarettes” but that “the small number of trials, low event rates and wide confidence intervals around the estimates” mean there is “weak” evidence supporting e-cigarettes as a tool to help smokers quit.

Annually, traditional cigarette smoking claims about 700,000 lives in Europe and the European Commission says combating this is part of its flagship Beating Cancer Plan. In May, the commission is due to release a report about the implementation of the 2014 Tobacco Product Directive.

The Committee says it received 691 contributions from 128 organisations and individuals to the public consultation on their opinion.

On Friday, reaction to the report came from Italian ECR MEP Pietro Fiocchi, a member of the European Parliament’s Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee and shadow rapporteur on Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) file.

He told this website, “The Commission has emphasised, rightly so, the need for science when dealing with e-cigarettes and other new products.

“I find it deeply concerning that the scientific evidence coming out of SCHEER on e-cigarettes can be so completely different to the studies we have seen come out across Europe, and call on the Commission to explain how the scientists reached their conclusion and why US studies are being used to analyse a potential health issue in Europe” EPP Group MEP Aldo Patriciello

“However, there seems to be a disconnect across Europe on the science - SCHEER and Public Health England for example seem to come to different conclusions. Europe has a commitment to science.”

“As part of its request, the Commission asked SCHEER to look at harm reduction but then seems to have requested that it be completely disregarded.”

“I am a firm believer that vaping can add value to our goals to tackle smoking by ensuring a proportionate and supportive regulatory framework for vaping, but how will we be able to fully comprehend the harm a product poses if you restrict the analysis done on it?”

Centre-right EPP Group deputy Aldo Patriciello also told this site, “From the beginning of the Beating Cancer Plan process, I have called for the EU to approach tobacco in a tough but practical manner.”

“It is important that tobacco consumption is tackled, as it is the main cause of preventable cancers, but we must not blindly avoid considering less harmful alternatives, like vaping, if they can help us overcome cancer.”

“I find it deeply concerning that the scientific evidence coming out of SCHEER on e-cigarettes can be so completely different to the studies we have seen come out across Europe, and call on the Commission to explain how the scientists reached their conclusion and why US studies are being used to analyse a potential health issue in Europe.”

The Independent European Vape Alliance (IEVA) said the Committee had failed to compare the risks of electronic cigarette use with the risks of smoking.

“Such an omission renders the report of little use to policymakers,” said Dustin Dahlmann, President of IEVA.

He said: “The SCHEER Committee has failed to present scientific data on vaping in a comprehensive and balanced manner. The result is a report that is little more than a series of baseless predetermined assertions.”

“Another opportunity to educate smokers willing to switch to less harmful alternatives has been wasted, and this alone has serious public health implications.”

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