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#Snus - #ECJ, politically charged, opposes harm-reduction

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The European Court of Justice decided against overturning the EU-wide ban on the smokeless tobacco snus. The ruling displays a political public health motivation, writes Bill Wirtz.

In January last year, the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) appealed against the 1992 EU-ban on the smokeless tobacco snus. Snus is powdered tobacco, often sold in pre-packed bags of the size of an index finger, which the users place on the upper lip. It is sometimes confused with snuffed tobacco, which is legal. Snus does have associated health risks, and can also lead to nicotine addiction, yet it reduces the risk of pulmonary diseases. The product is particularly popular in Scandinavian countries.

According to Eurostat figures, smoking rates in Sweden - which negotiated an opt-out of the snus ban when it joined the EU in 1995 - are the lowest in the whole of Europe. In fact, they are half those of most European countries, and are three times lower than in Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary or Turkey. It’s hard to imagine that snus doesn’t play a role in this – because it doesn’t qualify as smoking. Similarly, statistics in Norway reveal that 2017 marked the first year in which 16- to 74-year-olds consumed more snus than cigarettes.

The ban was defended by counsels for the European Commission, the European Council, the European Parliament, Norway and the UK. Among the arguments presented were that tobacco consumption of all kinds needs to be reduced, and that snus could be regarded as a gateway to conventional cigarettes. Not only is there no scientific evidence for the ‘gateway drug’ claim — it is also bizarre that EU outlaws the gateway, while allowing the sale of cigarettes, a drug it considers more dangerous. Snus advocates suffered a major blow when Danish Advocate-General Henrik Saugmandsgaard Øe concluded that snus remains a health hazard, which legitimizes the ban.

In a ruling published on 22 November, the ECJ ruled against the re-authorization of snus in the European Union.

Pro-snus advocates have two reasons to argue for a lifting of the ban: on one hand there's the economic incentive of the company's that make snus, which would not be denied by the companies. After all, producing companies have an obvious business incentive. But more importantly, there's an aspect of harm-reduction that is important: cigarette smokers can quit smoking through snus. Yes, snus is not a harmless product in itself, but it is a better alternative than cigarettes. Shouldn't the goal of public health be to encourage this process of reducing risks?

The ruling of the European Court of Justice displays a deep bias against the principle of harm-reduction. The court casts out the experience of Norway and Sweden, and says that that snus as a tobacco cessation method is "uncertain". It also cleverly manages to avoid asserting that there is a gateway effect, by stating that there is a "risk of a gateway effect". Calling it a mere gateway risk exempts the judges from proving the gateway relationship, which is not proven.

However, two paragraphs in the ruling stand out:

"Tobacco products for oral use remain harmful to health, are addictive and are attractive to young people. Further, as stated in paragraph 26 of the present judgment, such products would, if placed on the market, represent novel products for consumers. In that context, it remains likely that member states may be led to adopt various laws, regulations and administrative provisions designed to bring to an end the expansion in the consumption of tobacco products for oral use."

Most interestingly, nothing in this paragraph (58) is untrue. Snus is harmful to health, it can be addictive and it is attractive to young people (as observed in Scandinavian countries). It is also correct that the product would be novel, and that certain member states would feel inclined to regulate on the national level. However, nothing therefore contradicts the claims of harm-reduction.

"Moreover, as regards more particularly the claim by Swedish Match [Swedish company that produces snus] that the permission given to the marketing of other tobacco and related products demonstrates that the prohibition on the placing on the market of tobacco products for oral use is disproportionate, it must be recalled that an EU measure is appropriate for ensuring attainment of the objective pursued only if it genuinely reflects a concern to attain it in a consistent and systematic manner [...]."

This paragraph 59 of the ruling is the most telling about the political motivations of the court. Swedish Match made an argument over the proportionality of the ban vis-à-vis other legal products. In essence: why is snus illegal, while other products which are more harmful, such as cigarettes, are legal?

The paragraph contains a lot of legalese, but it refers in its arguments to a ruling of July last year, in which it stated that it considers the overall objective of a law in its judgement regard proportionality. In essence, the ECJ says that EU rules against tobacco are made in an effort to protect public health, which means that any change on the market that could, in any way possible, make a product more interesting to consumers, contradicts the objective of the law. In fact, the court doesn't deny that a ban on snus is disproportional in itself, but that given the context of the objectives of public health policy, a ban is proportionate. Nothing could indicate more clearly that the court only confirms the policies of the European Union.

Snus is one of the viable harm-reducing products, which can actually give tobacco users a viable alternative for smoking cigarettes. Yes, consumers do not always choose the healthiest option for themselves, but if presented with choices offered on the market, they might actually reduce the health hazards posed to their bodies.

Bill Wirtz is a policy analyst for the Consumer Choice Center.

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Backing #Vaping to beat #Cancer

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The upcoming European Union's Beating Cancer Plan is a historic chance to improve public health in Europe. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the EU. 1.3 million people die from cancer each year in the EU and 700,000 of those deaths are associated with smoking. Despite these terrifying numbers, approximately 140 million Europeans are still smoking. The European Union is right to tackle the disease with a holistic approach, writes Michael Landl (pictured).

A comprehensive approach needs to include prevention and harm reduction. While it is important that lawmakers do everything, they can to prevent people from starting smoking, it is equally important to support current smokers in their quest to quit. Including e-cigarettes (vaping) in the EU Beating Cancer Plan will help millions of European who are struggling to quit smoking and consequently prevent many deaths associated with cancer from smoking.

E-cigarettes contain liquid which is heated and turned into vapour. There is no tobacco nor tar in e-cigarettes and many of the toxins in cigarettes are not present in e-cigarettes. In 2015, Public Health England declared that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking and began recommending that current smokers switch to electronic cigarettes. Countries like Canada and New Zealand followed their lead and have helped save millions of lives. In fact, these policies promoting vaping arguably achieved more in a short period of time than what lawmakers tried to accomplish for years: fewer people smoking cigarettes. 

We know that abstinence is not as effective as alternatives, such as vaping. According to a 2019 study from Queen Mary University London of 100 smokers trying to quit cold turkey, only three to five succeed - while according to the same study, vaping is even more effective for smoking cessation than nicotine-replacement therapy, like patches or gums.

Despite the weight of evidence, a number of governments have considered new restrictions on vaping, rather than make it more accessible. While often well intentioned most newly proposed regulations, such as flavour liquid bans or higher taxes, would disproportionately harm smokers who are trying to quit. This runs directly against the goal of beating cancer.

The EU Beating Cancer Plan is a massive opportunity to ramp up the fight against smoking. Lawmakers should include vaping in the plan as a harm reduction tool to prevent cancer. The European Union's institutions and governments should follow the lead of countries like the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand and encourage the use of vaping as a less harmful alternative for adult smokers.

If the European Union is serious about improving health, we must back vaping to beat cancer.

About the World Vapers' Alliance

The World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) amplifies the voice of passionate vapers around the world and empowers them to make a difference for their communities. The alliance partners with 19 groups representing vapers worldwide and represents individual vapers. Michael Landl, the WVA’s director, is an experienced policy professional and a passionate vaper.

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Does #COVID-19 represent a mortal threat to the tobacco sector?

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The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has spelled bad news on the whole for smokers and the industry which supplies them. The most recent developments include the debunking of research that suggests smokers are supposedly less susceptible to the virus – accompanied by revelations that in fact the habit exacerbates the effects of the disease – as well as a public smoking ban in Galicia that has now spread across the whole of Spain.

With over one million smokers in the UK having reportedly kicked the habit since the onset of COVID-19, how great a threat does the current crisis represent to the industry which profits from their addiction? Public awareness of the dangers of smoking have never been higher, meaning the time is ripe for authorities in Europe and elsewhere to introduce measures aimed at curbing the deadly practice – but they must be wary of interference and prevarication from the ever-tenacious tobacco industry itself.

Big Tobacco under threat

At the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, smokers may have been initially cheered to hear the results of a study from China, where they were disproportionately underrepresented among sufferers of Covid-19. Subsequent research has not brought nearly such positive news; more than one peer-reviewed paper has found smokers are roughly twice as likely to experience coronavirus symptoms as non-smokers. This aligns with other studies, which found that smokers with the virus were twice as likely to be hospitalized and 1.8 times more likely to die than their non-smoking counterparts.

The addiction isn’t just damaging to those holding the cigarette, either. With bar patrons urged to keep their voices down and even theme park goers warned against screaming for fear of transmitting the virus orally, the huge clouds of smoke emitted by tobacco enthusiasts could be an ambient epidemic waiting to happen. Aware of the danger, South Africa took immediate action to ban tobacco sales in late March, although it has since revisited those restrictions. More recently, the Spanish region of Galicia and the Canary Islands archipelago both announced public smoking would be prohibited, with the rest of the country considering following suit.

The pandemic hasn’t just prompted a response from lawmakers – smokers are also reconsidering their relationship with tobacco in light of the dangers posed by the highly contagious and deadly respiratory disease. In the UK, over a million smokers have quit in the last six months, with 41% of those claiming fears of coronavirus were their primary motivation for doing so. Meanwhile, the University College London found that more people have given up smoking in the year up to June 2020 than in any other 12-month window since records began over a decade ago.

Underhanded tactics at play

Never one to take such setbacks lying down, Big Tobacco has resorted to its tried and tested tactical playbook. Among other machinations, that playbook involves obfuscating and influencing the science by funding favorable studies on the subject of coronavirus and smoking, delaying anti-tobacco regulations and claiming the industry comprises an “essential business” to avoid lockdown measures in places as diverse as Italy, Pakistan and Brazil.

At the same time, major tobacco firms have been accused of crisis-washing. Philip Morris International (PMI) donated a reported $1 million to the Romanian Red Cross and 50 ventilators to a Greek hospital, as well as an estimated €350,000 to a Ukrainian charity, with other big players reportedly having done the same. Critics claim these apparently altruistic contributions are nothing more than opportunistic PR stunts which capitalize on a global tragedy to paint Big Tobacco in a positive light – something which the industry itself vehemently rejects.

Regardless of the intent behind the donations, there are heavy suspicions that they may have contravened the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) protocol, which specifically prohibits governments or government-owned bodies from taking funds from the tobacco industry. Unsurprisingly, this kind of chicanery is nothing new for Big Tobacco, who have been ploughing a similar furrow for decades. Unfortunately, it’s one that continues to yield advantages for those behind the yoke, despite efforts to curb their influence.

Ineptitude and inefficiency in the EU

EU policymakers have, disappointingly, demonstrated themselves to be particularly susceptible to the tobacco industry’s malignant influence. As detailed by the OCCRP, the EU has effectively handed over large parts of its track and trace (T&T) system for illicit tobacco to firms with close ties to the industry. The system, which the FCTC has highlighted as an integral step in clamping down on a black market that costs the bloc over €10 billion per annum in lost public revenue, is intended to monitor a packet’s progress at each stage of the supply chain via a unique identifier, thus eliminating any opportunity for wrongdoing.

A central element of any successful T&T system, as defined by the Illicit Trade Protocol (ITP), is its complete independence from the industry itself. However, the OCCRP investigation has uncovered how key firms developing T&T software and handling the process have ties to the tobacco industry, including seven out of eight of the companies tasked with storing the all-important cigarette data. Meanwhile, one of the main companies monitoring hundreds of supply lines into the EU – Inexto – appears to be at least partially funded by Big Tobacco, while the very software it uses to carry out its obligations was purchased from PMI themselves for a rumored fee of just one Swiss franc.

The whole process is so riddled with inefficiencies that nine months after its implementation, insiders have said they have no idea how effective it has been in clamping down on the illegal trade, while one official from the UK’s trading standards office has called it “completely useless”. Nonetheless, EU officials have travelled the world touting the benefits of their system and several nations have already bought into the myth, with Inexto winning contracts from Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, and governments in Western Africa to date. The Pakistani contract, at least, has since been invalidated by court order.

A vaccine for industry influence

At a time when the Covid-19 crisis has thrown health concerns into sharp relief, governments and health groups should be taking a page out of the obesity debate book and generating momentum towards cutting smoking rates in their territories. While that momentum does seem to be gaining ground, it sadly does not appear to have escaped the pervasive and pernicious influence of the industry itself, which undermines the entire process.

Big Tobacco’s stratagems are widely documented and well understood – but this knowledge does not seem to be capable of preventing their success all the same. In addition to a vaccine for this deadly new coronavirus, it seems immunity against industry intervention should also be on the EU’s priority list.

Continue Reading

Cigarettes

Does #COVID-19 represent a mortal threat to the #tobacco sector?

Published

on

The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has spelled bad news on the whole for smokers and the industry which supplies them. The most recent developments include the debunking of research that suggests smokers are supposedly less susceptible to the virus – accompanied by revelations that in fact the habit exacerbates the effects of the disease – as well as a public smoking ban in Galicia that has now spread across the whole of Spain.

With over one million smokers in the UK having reportedly kicked the habit since the onset of COVID-19, how great a threat does the current crisis represent to the industry which profits from their addiction? Public awareness of the dangers of smoking have never been higher, meaning the time is ripe for authorities in Europe and elsewhere to introduce measures aimed at curbing the deadly practice – but they must be wary of interference and prevarication from the ever-tenacious tobacco industry itself.

'Big Tobacco' under threat

At the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, smokers may have been initially cheered to hear the results of a study from China, where they were disproportionately underrepresented among sufferers of Covid-19. Subsequent research has not brought nearly such positive news; more than one peer-reviewed paper has found smokers are roughly twice as likely to experience coronavirus symptoms as non-smokers. This aligns with other studies, which found that smokers with the virus were twice as likely to be hospitalized and 1.8 times more likely to die than their non-smoking counterparts.

The addiction isn’t just damaging to those holding the cigarette, either. With bar patrons urged to keep their voices down and even theme park goers warned against screaming for fear of transmitting the virus orally, the huge clouds of smoke emitted by tobacco enthusiasts could be an ambient epidemic waiting to happen. Aware of the danger, South Africa took immediate action to ban tobacco sales in late March, although it has since revisited those restrictions. More recently, the Spanish region of Galicia and the Canary Islands archipelago both announced public smoking would be prohibited, with the rest of the country considering following suit.

The pandemic hasn’t just prompted a response from lawmakers – smokers are also reconsidering their relationship with tobacco in light of the dangers posed by the highly contagious and deadly respiratory disease. In the UK, over a million smokers have quit in the last six months, with 41% of those claiming fears of coronavirus were their primary motivation for doing so. Meanwhile, the University College London found that more people have given up smoking in the year up to June 2020 than in any other 12-month window since records began over a decade ago.

Underhanded tactics at play

Never one to take such setbacks lying down, Big Tobacco has resorted to its tried and tested tactical playbook. Among other machinations, that playbook involves obfuscating and influencing the science by funding favorable studies on the subject of coronavirus and smoking, delaying anti-tobacco regulations and claiming the industry comprises an “essential business” to avoid lockdown measures in places as diverse as Italy, Pakistan and Brazil.

At the same time, major tobacco firms have been accused of crisis-washing. Philip Morris International (PMI) donated a reported $1 million to the Romanian Red Cross and 50 ventilators to a Greek hospital, as well as an estimated €350,000 to a Ukrainian charity, with other big players reportedly having done the same. Critics claim these apparently altruistic contributions are nothing more than opportunistic PR stunts which capitalize on a global tragedy to paint Big Tobacco in a positive light – something which the industry itself vehemently rejects.

Regardless of the intent behind the donations, there are heavy suspicions that they may have contravened the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) protocol, which specifically prohibits governments or government-owned bodies from taking funds from the tobacco industry. Unsurprisingly, this kind of chicanery is nothing new for Big Tobacco, who have been ploughing a similar furrow for decades. Unfortunately, it’s one that continues to yield advantages for those behind the yoke, despite efforts to curb their influence.

Ineptitude and inefficiency in the EU

EU policymakers have, disappointingly, demonstrated themselves to be particularly susceptible to the tobacco industry’s malignant influence. As detailed by the OCCRP, the EU has effectively handed over large parts of its track and trace (T&T) system for illicit tobacco to firms with close ties to the industry. The system, which the FCTC has highlighted as an integral step in clamping down on a black market that costs the bloc more than €10 billion per annum in lost public revenue, is intended to monitor a packet’s progress at each stage of the supply chain via a unique identifier, thus eliminating any opportunity for wrongdoing.

A central element of any successful T&T system, as defined by the Illicit Trade Protocol (ITP), is its complete independence from the industry itself. However, the OCCRP investigation has uncovered how key firms developing T&T software and handling the process have ties to the tobacco industry, including seven out of eight of the companies tasked with storing the all-important cigarette data. Meanwhile, one of the main companies monitoring hundreds of supply lines into the EU – Inexto – appears to be at least partially funded by Big Tobacco, while the very software it uses to carry out its obligations was purchased from PMI themselves for a rumored fee of just one Swiss franc.

The whole process is so riddled with inefficiencies that nine months after its implementation, insiders have said they have no idea how effective it has been in clamping down on the illegal trade, while one official from the UK’s trading standards office has called it “completely useless”. Nonetheless, EU officials have travelled the world touting the benefits of their system and several nations have already bought into the myth, with Inexto winning contracts from Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, and governments in Western Africa to date. The Pakistani contract, at least, has since been invalidated by court order.

A vaccine for industry influence

At a time when the Covid-19 crisis has thrown health concerns into sharp relief, governments and health groups should be taking a page out of the obesity debate book and generating momentum towards cutting smoking rates in their territories. While that momentum does seem to be gaining ground, it sadly does not appear to have escaped the pervasive and pernicious influence of the industry itself, which undermines the entire process.

Big Tobacco’s stratagems are widely documented and well understood – but this knowledge does not seem to be capable of preventing their success all the same. In addition to a vaccine for this deadly new coronavirus, it seems immunity against industry intervention should also be on the EU’s priority list.

Continue Reading
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