Once again, vaping in the EU is facing multiple threats, both at an EU level and at a state level.
The latest EU wide threat comes from the EU Beating Cancer Plan.
I got together with Damian from the European Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates group to find out what the plan means for vapers, what the implications are and how to oppose it.
What is ETHRA, and is it independent of the tobacco industry?
European Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (ETHRA) is a consortium of 22 grassroots consumer advocacy groups across Europe. We have partners in 16 countries and are supported by scientific experts in tobacco control or nicotine research.
ETHRA is not funded by the tobacco or vaping industry, in fact, we are not funded at all as our grouping is a voice for our partners who arrange their own revenue and who give their time to ETHRA for free.
Our mission is to give consumers of safer nicotine products a voice and to ensure that the full harm reduction potential of safer nicotine products is not hindered by inappropriate regulation.
Can you tell us about the EU Beating Cancer Plan?
Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan is an ambitious EU project which aims to reduce the cancer burden and address cancer-related inequalities. The main pillars of the plan are prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and quality of life.
There were two public consultations for the plan last year and a large number of submissions were in favour of embracing harm reduction strategies, such as vaping, in order to prevent cancer.
The plan was published by the European Commission on World Cancer Day last week. We were horrified to see that the Commission’s proposals for smoking include “stricter rules on novel products”, such as vaping products. Last year’s public consultations are barely referenced in the plan.
How would the EU Beating Cancer Plan impact vaping and vapers?
As it stands now, the proposals in the Beating Cancer Plan would be disastrous for vaping and vapers - and for smokers who may wish to switch. The plan makes no distinction between smoking and vaping and proposes working towards plain packaging, full flavour bans and extending taxation to include vapour products.
Changes would need to be made to the Tobacco Products Directive and Tax Directive to allow these measures to happen. The Commission also intends to extend its smoke free environments recommendations to include vapour products and to include “outdoor spaces”.
Needless to say, these proposals are not only anti-harm reduction but are contrary to the goals of the plan itself. A full flavour ban would be especially damaging - removing non-tobacco flavours, which the majority of vapers use, is removing the very thing that attracts smokers to vaping and keeps millions of consumers smoke free.
What do you think will be the consequences of these restrictions on smoking rates and cancer?
Vaping is a popular and effective way to quit smoking. Vaping is twice as successful as Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and countries - such as the UK - which have a tolerant attitude to vaping have seen their smoking prevalence fall.
The plan’s proposals will make vaping less accessible and less attractive and it is inevitable that smoking rates will go up. More people smoking means more smoking-related diseases, it’s really that simple.
Given the dramatic fall in smoking rates in the UK, where vaping has been supported by the government, it seems strange that the EU wants to target vaping as part of a plan to tackle cancer.
What do you think is behind the inclusion of vaping in the plan?
In my opinion, it’s a moralistic diktat passed down by the all-knowing WHO. For quite a while they have attempted to steer the conversation away from addressing the harms of smoking, to eliminating the use of nicotine (excluding “good” nicotine products made by pharma).
The proposals haven't come out of the blue - several European countries (Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Latvia) are planning to bring in anti-vaping measures to go beyond the TPD. These include some or all of these: flavour bans, bans on public space use, plain packaging, cross border sales bans and further advertising restrictions. Denmark has already voted its proposals into law. This is all being done under the guise of protecting the youth, a tried and trusted method of generating moral outrage to force an agenda, with no need for actual evidence.
The influence of Bloomberg can’t be overlooked in all this either. He has pumped millions of dollars into influential and powerful prohibitionist anti-vaping organisations and campaigns. He has just been given another term as a global ambassador for non-communicable diseases with the WHO and is also a funder of the WHO FCTC.
I don’t believe they misunderstand the science; I think it’s intentionally ignored, and conflating the vaping industry with the tobacco industry is a means to sow doubt in the science that supports tobacco harm reduction. As the saying goes; he who pays the piper calls the tune.
This legislation will obviously be devastating for the independent vape industry, but it’s a bit more complicated for the tobacco industry, which produces both combustible and reduced-harm products.
If this legislation goes ahead, how do you think it will impact tobacco companies?
If the proposals in the Cancer Plan are implemented by influencing the outcomes of the Tobacco Products Directive and Tobacco Taxation Directive reviews, it will be a boon for the tobacco industry. A major competitor and serious threat to combustible cigarettes will have been neutralised.
Is there an opportunity to engage with decision makers in the EU, and educate them? If so, what is the best way to go about it?
There’s always an opportunity to engage with decision makers in the EU. The MEPs were put there by the people that elected them, and they are there to represent us. Get in contact with them by email or phone.
Tell them your story and how vaping helped you quit smoking, be persistent if you have to. If you don’t know your MEPs get in contact with us at ETHRA and we can let you know who to contact and how to contact them.
What else can vapers do to help fight a ban?
As well as engaging with your MEPS, get involved with advocacy at a national level. Check the ETHRA site for a list of our partners, or message us directly from our contact form on the site. Complacency is not our friend right now and we need as many people to get involved as possible, every little bit helps.
If you live in the UK don’t be complacent - the UK government is currently supportive of vaping and we need to keep it that way. Make your views about vaping known in the UK government’s Tobacco and Related Products consultation, before the closing date of Monday 19 March. This is an open consultation on “how well current tobacco regulations are achieving their objectives”, including the legislation for the TPD which is currently in force in the UK.
You can also support fellow vapers who are fighting for their rights in Europe by looking out for and sharing their social media posts and engaging in public consultations and other initiatives - keep an eye on ETHRA to find out what you can do.