The EU Maintains Secrecy on Its Position on Safer Nicotine Alternatives at COP10

With COP10 around the corner, tobacco harm reduction (THR) advocates are being urged to stand up to the World Health Organization's Conference of Parties.

The WHO’s upcoming COP10 conference in Panama, which will address regulations on nicotine products, potentially impacting snus, nicotine pouches, and other alternatives to smoking, poses a threat to these less harmful alternatives to smoking. In Sweden, the use of snus is known to have led to the lowest smoking rates and tobacco-related diseases in the EU, but does the Swedish government stand a chance to influence COP10?

Bengt Wiberg, a prominent figure in the harm reduction debate, has been leading the ‘EU for snus’ initiative to challenge the EU’s ‘unscientific’ snus policy. He has recently revealed that the Swedish delegation at COP10 will “follow the EU’s line” and when he enquired as to what this will look like with the help of a journalist, he found that the EU documents pertaining to this are classified.

The closed nature of the COP10 meeting, excluding journalists, researchers, industry, and civil society, has always been deemed scandalous. Potential decisions, such as banning nicotine pouches or restricting flavours, could have severe consequences for the 140 million people globally who have switched to lower-risk nicotine products, with the risk of a return to smoking. And of course, it is unacceptable that the EU is subscribing to this model.

The Swedish government, with support from parties advocating harm reduction, is being urged to assert its position at COP10, preventing potential setbacks to the smoke-free tradition. Similarly, UK Member of Parliament Andrew Lewer has recently emphasized the importance of standing up for tobacco harm reduction at COP10, highlighting the WHO’s disregard for scientific evidence supporting smoking alternatives and its push for restrictive regulations.

A stance rooted in politics, certainly not science
In line with experts in the fields of science, health and smoking cessation, Wiberg emphasizes that nicotine itself is not the cause of harm; rather, it’s the smoke and tar in cigarettes. He contends that if more people adopted nicotine use as seen in Sweden, many lives could be saved from premature death each year.

Sadly, just like the WHO’s, the EU’s stance on safer nicotine alternatives is rooted in politics rather than science. Wiberg highlights that the reluctance to lift the snus ban in the EU is driven by prestige, as revoking the ban would require decision-makers to admit their error. He highlights the positive impact of snus on public health in Sweden, where the lowest rates of tobacco-related cancer and mortality from tobacco-related diseases are observed.

The UK shocks THR experts
Sadly, the UK, another success story thanks to the use of nicotine alternatives, has just announced some vape restrictions which are likely to be counterproductive to local smoking rates. “The ‘think of the children’ argument has soaked the UK government. Who looks out for adult nicotine users, especially those who still smoke? If a 10 year old drives a Tesla and crashes and dies. Do you then ban Tesla cars or do you ensure that 10 year olds without a driving licence don’t drive Tesla?,” Wiberg told Vaping Post.

Thankfully concluded the “EU for Snus” founder, there are seemingly some positive news from the US. Bloomberg, which is renowned for being anti-tobacco harm reduction, seems to be coming round to the idea of using snus and nicotine pouches to quit smoking. It has recently released a documentary on the smoking cessation success achieved by Sweden thanks to the use of these products.