This article is part of our special report Electronic cigarettes and science in EU policy making.
E-cigarettes “undoubtedly” reduce risks compared to traditional cigarettes and have a place in the EU’s plan to fight cancer. However, these products should not enjoy “lighter” regulation and Europe should treat them with the same vigilance as tobacco products, MEP Michèle Rivasi told EURACTIV in an interview.
“I see no reason why the electronic cigarette and its products should benefit from tax reductions or exemptions,” she said.
Michèle Rivasi is a French EU lawmaker from the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance (Europe Écologie) of the European Parliament.
- E-cigarettes should be treated with the same level of vigilance as tobacco products
- No tax exemptions for e-cigarettes
- Sales to minors should be banned
- Need for better regulation of sales and advertising
According to you, how should electronic cigarettes be treated in EU law? Should they be treated just like other tobacco products / traditional smoking?
I will say “yes, but… “. The electronic cigarette is a product that must be treated with the same level of vigilance as tobacco products, whilst being adapted to its specificities. This is the difficulty of this range of products that appeared about fifteen years ago. For us, the Greens, if the use of electronic cigarettes is claimed to be an alternative to tobacco, as a substitute product or as a way of reducing the ravages associated with conventional cigarettes – which kill half the people who use them and which are responsible in Europe for a quarter of cancer deaths, let us remember! – we need to consider electronic cigarettes as a medical device, in the same way as gum or patches are pharmaceutical products.
Another key aspect is flavours and refills. The 2019 health scare in the US, which affected over 2,800 people and caused 68 deaths, was the result of illicit cartridge trafficking. Here again, we Greens are particularly attentive to this risk and advocate for binding rules. We know nothing, or unfortunately very little, about the effects of the chemical additives used in e-cigarette liquids, the residues of their combustion and their combined effects, including in the long term. The industry itself acknowledges its ignorance and wants to know more about the real impact of its products.
It is not because electronic cigarettes appear less toxic than conventional tobacco products that they should benefit from ‘lighter’ regulations.
There are studies showing that they are less harmful than traditional smoking. Could this possibly be a way for heavy smokers to quit traditional smoking?
Several studies and many tobacco experts observe that the transition to the electronic cigarette allows for an easier withdrawal from traditional tobacco. There would therefore be less tobacco consumption, but not necessarily a cessation of smoking. Similarly, other figures show that only one in six young people who try electronic cigarettes become smokers, compared with the one in two who try a conventional cigarette. At the same time, we can cite a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association published in 2018 which found that non-smoking teenagers who use electronic cigarettes are two to three times more likely to start smoking tobacco than those who have never tried.
We are thus facing a product, or a use, which is simultaneously an aid to reduce the consumption of tobacco by smokers while at the same time proving to be a gateway to smoking.
These apparent contradictions explain the WHO’s statements affirming that electronic cigarettes are “unquestionably harmful” and the fact that the electronic cigarette is a full-fledged element of the tobacco universe.
The massive investments tobacco giants have made in this new sector illustrate this continuity. Besides, let’s face it, experts are still divided as to whether we are talking about risky consumption or about a population at risk, which would have tried tobacco anyway. Both sides exist, let’s acknowledge it.
Should e-cigarettes be less taxed compared to traditional tobacco products?
No. I see no reason why the electronic cigarette and its products should benefit from tax reductions or exemptions.
What do you expect from the Commission’s TPD implementation report next month?
We already know legislation’s shortcomings of heated tobacco and electronic cigarettes. We need better regulation of sales and advertising, a thorough analysis of additives and their cocktail effect, a ban on flavourings and mandatory health warnings to alert non-smokers to the risks, as is the case for traditional cigarettes. Sales to minors should also be banned. The overview of tobacco and vaping products sold in France, published in October 2020 following the health crisis in the US, noted the inconsistencies and non-conformities in the manufacturers’ declarations. We shall see whether the Commission, whose closeness to the tobacco industry has continued to be highlighted in recent years, addresses these points in its report.
Is there a place for e-cigarettes in Europe’s beating cancer plan?
Judging by the press and the positions taken by representatives of the e-cigarette lobby, this seems to be the case! Given the responsibility of tobacco in the development of cancer, one of the first challenges to prevent cancer is to reduce smoking. The electronic cigarette, therefore, has its place in the European plan to fight cancer. The electronic cigarette is undoubtedly a product that can reduce risks, but it is not the panacea that its followers – and the companies behind them – would have us believe. Let’s stay vigilant!
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]