At a recent webinar organised by The Parliament Magazine and the World’s Vapers’ Alliance, EU policymakers and tobacco harm reduction experts came to together to debate the current issues surrounding vaping. Are they less harmful than smoking? Do they help smokers quit? Or do they create new generations of tobacco consumers. Also discussed were the Commission’s ‘Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan’ and the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive - which will look at the safety and ease of availability of vaping products.
Amid the backdrop for the discussion was the Commission’s Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) report on electronic cigarettes. The opinion of the Committee was that “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 cigarettes and initiation”.
Italian ECR deputy Pietro Fiocchi disagreed with the SCHEER opinion saying: “I have been very critical of the EU’s new directive and the […] SCHEER document. In my opinion, they are not taking into consideration the scientific evidence that these are very good instruments for helping to reduce harm from tobacco.” The member of the Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) believed the Commission was mistaken in considering these products just as dangerous as traditional tobacco products.
“People who think banning flavours will protect young people are not understanding what’s going on here. If vaping works as a harm reducer for adults, it also works as a harm reducer for adolescents”
Clive Bates, Director of The Counterfactual
He warned, “If the Commission continues with this approach, it is going lead to a major problem. As taxes on both traditional products and vaping items will be set at the same level. This is bad, as poorer Europeans, who cannot afford to vape, will buy other, unhealthier products instead.” He added, “This is a battle we need to fight, because I strongly believe that vaping is a good solution in helping to reduce the number of smokers in Europe.”
Greek EPP deputy Maria Spyraki cited a 2020 WHO report which said that, though not harmless, E-cigarettes were less harmful than conventional cigarettes. Spyraki said, “The goal is to win the war against cancer. One in five patients in the EU suffers from lung cancer, therefore we have to help smokers by giving them the opportunity to gradually quit.” She continued, “We have to consider how we can use heated tobacco products and electronic nicotine delivery systems as tools for helping them quit.”
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Director of the World Vapers’ Alliance, Michael Landl, strongly believed that current misconceptions on the risks of vaping are also caused by policymakers not engaging in dialogue with consumers. He shared a comment from one consumer, saying, “I never thought I needed to become a political activist to quit smoking.” Landl described this statement as not only astonishing but also a damning indictment on the current political debate. He added, “Everybody who wants to help people quit should embrace new innovations like vaping.” He pointed out that the World Vapers’ Alliance has started a ’Back Vaping Beat Cancer’ campaign. Among its objectives is to give consumers a voice, explained Landl, adding, “There is no other choice but to include vaping in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan as a harm reduction method if we really want to tackle cancer within the EU.”
Director of the consulting firm The Counterfactual, Clive Bates, highlighted several benefits of the growing popularity of vaping. First, there are physiological differences between those who smoked and those who used alternative products. “If you measure the levels of toxicants in the blood, the saliva and the urine, you’ll find much lower levels, similar to non-smokers or people who quit.” He also pointed out how e-cigarettes ‘displaced’ smoking and were more successful in helping people quit than therapy. He said, “People who use E-cigarettes have a higher quit rate, particularly if they were frequent users.”
Bates also commented on the importance of the market from an economic view. In 2020, the E-cigarette market was valued globally at €12.36 billion - a figure which is expected to grow. He also pointed out Sweden’s success in bringing down cigarette use to just five percent of the population, compared to the EU average of 24 percent. Though the main product being used in Sweden was Snus, rather than vaping products, it was still a good ‘proof of concept’ of their potential benefits. He added, “Amazing public health results have been achieved in Sweden, which you can see in the reduced levels of cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, especially among men.”
“There is no other choice but to include vaping in Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan as a harm reduction method if we really want to tackle cancer within the EU”
Michael Landl, Director of the World Vapers’ Alliance
The Commission is currently weighing the possibility of banning flavoured vaping products, as critics believe they appeal to children, with a similar rule coming into force in the Netherlands from July 2022. On this point, Landl argued that it was in fact adults who want different flavours. “If people want to stay away from a using cigarettes, they don’t want to be reminded of their taste, so they instead pick other flavours.” He added that when particularly young users were asked why they started vaping, ‘curiosity in the product’ was top of list, while flavoured products featured lower.
According to Bates, there is already empirical evidence that bans did not work. In 2018, San Francisco introduced a prohibition on flavoured products. Surveys before and after showed a sharp increase in smoking among teenagers. “People who think banning flavours will protect young people are not understanding what’s going on here. If vaping works as a harm reducer for adults, it also works as a harm reducer for adolescents,” said Bates.
Fiocchi, in his closing remarks, revealed how vaping had helped him on a personal level, saying, “My son used to smoke but then started vaping, which helped him ultimately stop smoking.” He concluded, “I don’t care about ideological wars, but I do care about helping smokers transition to vaping to help them quit.”
This content was commissioned by the World Vaping Alliance and produced by Dods