The European Commission (EC) had proposed a ban on the sales of flavoured heated tobacco products due to a reported increase in use, and the directive came into force on November 23rd 2022.
The ban was proposed in response to a reported 10% rise in the sales volumes of heated tobacco products in several EU countries. It covers all flavours other than tobacco and removes member states’ rights to exempt heated tobacco products from having to carry health warnings.
While the directive officially came into force on the 23rd of November, EU member states have until 23rd July 2023 to incorporate it into their national legislations, and the ban itself will be applicable from the 23rd of October 2023.
Given the studies indicating the effectivity of the products as smoking cessation aids, tobacco harm reduction (THR) advocates across the EU disagree with the ban. “By removing flavoured heated tobacco from the market we are taking yet another step towards realising our vision under Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan to create a ‘Tobacco Free Generation’ with less than 5% of the population using tobacco by 2040,” said EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides, who is known for her anti-THR stance.
Another unreasonable EU ban
Earlier in 2022, Swedish MEP Sara Skyttedal, had formally submitted parliamentary questions concerning snus to the European Commissioner (EC) for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides. The questions came ahead of the February 2022 release of the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan, which many experts have argued leaves out very crucial harm reduction strategies, such as the incorporation of safer tobacco alternatives.
“The fact that the Commission nevertheless persists in the view that snus causes cancer is both surprising and, to be honest, quite remarkable,” said Skyttedal as quoted by Snusforumet, at the time. Snus is a moist powder tobacco product that is placed under the upper lip for extended periods. It is mostly popular in Sweden, Denmark and Norway, where it is considered an effective harm reduction product.
In fact, as the MEP rightly highlighted, snus has not only led to Sweden boasting the lowest smoking rates in Europe, but also to reducing Sweden’s tobacco-related deaths by half the EU average, despite leaving the overall tobacco usage on par with the EU average. “If the Tobacco Products Directive is to be revised to take account of the fight against cancer, does the Commission share the view that the EU needs to change its regulation of snus?” Skyttedal asked Commissioner Kyriakides.
Another misguided stance
In response to the MEP’s arguments, sadly the Commissioner Kyriakides said that the EC’s stance remains unchanged as snus and other oral tobacco products have been linked to cancer and other adverse health effects. “It is undisputed that tobacco for oral use is addictive and has adverse health effects, including cancers.” Kyriakides went on to cite a 2008 report from the EU’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risk which she says “confirmed the negative health effects of snus”.
The Commissioner’s response prompted a strong reaction from Skyttedal, who pointed out that actually most studies related to snus found little or no links to cancer, and went on to cite the Lancet’s Global Burden of Diseases as well as a 2020 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, both of which conclude there is no evidence to suggest a link between snus and cancer.