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Opinion: EU bureaucrats plan to protect cigarette and drug markets while killing smokers

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E-cigaretteBy Gilbert Ross, M.D.  ACSH.org, New York, US  Dec. 2013

When the European Parliament (EP) flouted the European Commission's (EC) proposed Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) by vetoing medicine regulation for electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) last October, American public health experts (myself included) heaved a sigh of semi-relief. Such regulation would have, in effect, banned e-cigs, made all the effective devices illegal in the EU and turned millions of 'vapers' into relapsed smokers or criminals. The beneficiaries? Big Tobacco and Big Pharma.

But no! The EP drew the line at such a destructive regulatory overreach, limiting regulations to mostly commonsense dictums, by a substantial margin at that. Now, me and my American colleagues thought, we can go back to worrying about what our own ill-advised, conflicted Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would promulgate in its ongoing mission to sabotage the low-risk devices. Our e-cig regulations, due that same month, has been delayed a bit by that whole "government shutdown" thing, so we yanks remain on tenterhooks, waiting for the reveal to come from the oversight agency, OIRA.

Wouldn't you know it? While our backs were turned, sulking members of the EC (who represent whom, exactly?) decided not to let their perceived slap by the EP go unanswered, and decided to try a clever bypass of the democratically-elected legislature by resuming their assault on e-cigs. Perhaps knowing the kerfuffle this would engender, they wisely attempted to undertake this measure in secret…but not so wisely allowed it to be leaked to the press before it gained much momentum in the smoke-filled back rooms, as the commissioners had hoped.

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For those who don't care a whit about tobacco issues, e-cigs come in various guises, but they have this in common: they replicate the hand-to-mouth and exhaled 'smoky' rituals of cigarette smoking, and the large majority of them deliver a potent hit of the addicted smokers drug of choice, nicotine. Some — 'cigalikes' – are widely available in convenience stores and pharmacies, and often resemble tobacco cigarettes. Some have red glowing tips courtesy of an LED signal, some have a blue glow; some are white like regular smokes, some are black. They emit propylene glycol (PG) and flavorings with their water-vaporized nicotine in various concentrations. All of the known components are generally recognized as safe in the U.S., although none have been studied via inhalation over a long period of use (well, PG has been used in some medical inhalers without any health signals noted). Another key fact: millions of people, most from Europe and the USA, have purchased e-cigs: their market has doubled each year since 2010, and now number almost 3 millions 'vapers' (as they are called, not smokers, jamais!) in America and an even larger number in Europe. (Exact figures are hard to come by, as governments seem to be trying to ignore this phenomenon whilst companies regard such figures as proprietary and are fine with exaggerating or downplaying, as their interests dictate).

Why are they so popular? And why do so many governments and regulators want to stamp them out, render them impotent or tax them out of reach? First, we must confront a fact that those who hate and fear e-cigs never address: cigarette smoking is the most prevalent, lethal and preventable public health issue in the world. WHO predicts that, if current trends continue unabated, one billion will die of smoking-related diseases worldwide this century. The annual toll in the EU is almost 800,000 now, and in the US about 450,000 out of our 45 million smokers — cigarette addiction has been shown to eventually kill over one-half of their users. And although most smokers want to quit, and over half try to each year, the "success" rate remains in the 5% range cold turkey — without help. Unfortunately, the government approved methods to help smokes quit only improve that rate by two- to three-fold, meaning they succeed only slightly more often than one out of 10 attempted quitters: smoking is a devilishly hard addiction to break, at least on a par with cocaine or heroin.

Why is the EC now attempting to force medicine regulation on e-cigs through the "back door," as it were? Given the public health disaster of smoking — and the EU has the highest percentage of smokers of any similar geographical region — and the likelihood of major benefits (if not miracles) from widespread uptake of e-cigs, what's not to like? For reasons that can only be guessed at, hobgoblins and hypothetical concerns have been rescued from the trash heap they had been consigned to after the EP vote. What will happen to vapers in 5, 10, 20 years? What about the children: will they not become nicotine addicts if they experiment with e-cigs, as kids are wont to do? And those flavors! And those sexy TV ads! Remember Big Tobacco! It's all a devious plot by BAT-PMI-RJR to get back in the game, entice youngsters into newly-cool vapes, and next thing you know, a dedicated smoker! And those carcinogens the FDA managed to detect in 2009? And what about "second-hand vapor"?

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If these 'concerns' sound trumped-up (not to say phony), they are. None of these hypothetical 'risks' of e-cigs have been shown to be a realistic concern, and even arguendo they might have some merit, balancing such against the well-known addictive power and lethal health effects of the repetitive inhalation of tobacco smoke should make the argument a brief one. Yet, here we are: rushing willy-nilly towards a stringent regulatory environment effectively killing off this promising technology, along with hundreds (thousands?) of small businesses and substituting the agenda, or even more insidious interests, of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats for that of millions of desperate former smokers and the elected representatives in the EP. What's the rush, anyway?

Yet another component of this sordid tale: the presidency of the EU is a Lithuanian who is a fervent opponent of e-cigs; his term expires at the end of the year, and the next EP election is in May. The forces trying to keep e-cigs off the market, to deny access to this simple, effective and relatively inexpensive cigarette substitute, don't want to wait to see who the new president will be, when this one is so sympathetic.

We don't know, but strongly suspect, that e-cigs are an effective cessation aid, despite the lack of proof that usually comes from controlled clinical trials. We infer efficacy based upon these undeniable facts: more and more smokers have switched to vaping, while sales of real cigarettes have plummeted in a historically unprecedented manner.

What now? The EP, EC, and European Council (ministers representing the national governments) are even now engaging in a "trialogue" to meld their disparate positions into a new Directive that can be agreed upon by all parties. While this would ordinarily be a desirable goal, I tremble at the possible outcomes that might leave vapers out in the cold. They made their desires manifest clearly with demonstrations in and around the various EU offices over the past spring and summer, hoping to influence the EP vote — and it worked! Now they, as those of us in science-based public health, feel betrayed, although not (yet) abandoned: solid parliamentarians are holding the line against the EC advocates of tight regulation, and hopefully will succeed. But compromises akin to that made in 1994 when Sweden joined the EU at the price of keeping low-risk snus off the market in the EU — a nonsensical, counterintuitive position then and now — must be avoided: the baby should not again be disposed of with the bathwater.

Sound, reasonable, science-based regulation of e-cigs is a must, all of good faith agree. The EP's recently-passed Amendment 170 contained those: good manufacturing standards, age restrictions for sales and marketing/advertising, accurate ingredient labeling, child-proof containers for 'juice' (nicotine liquid for those who disdain cigalikes), and no health claims allowed. These are similar requirements to those in the US for "nutritional supplements," and there's no reason in the world why they would not be applicable to safe, effective, maybe miraculous e-cigarettes too. Else, those who sow the wind should prepare to reap the whirlwind: a vast angry black market will spring up to meet the voracious demand sure to follow if the EC's ill-advised, corrupt measures are adopted.

Gilbert Ross M.D.
Medical and Executive Director,
The American Council on Science and Health
1995 Broadway    NYC NY 10023
[email protected]

T. 212-362-7044  x242
Fax 212-362-4919
GSM. 516-581-8400
Website | Facebook Twitter 

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Environment

‘Green mining’ is a myth: EU must slash resource consumption by two-thirds – new study

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New analysis suggests the EU must ditch plans under its European Green Deal to increase mining and instead set hard limits to the natural resources it extracts in order to prevent human and ecological disaster. Read the full report here.

European Green Deal plans will fail to stop runaway mining, creating further permanent damage to the environment and wreaking havoc on human rights. The EU must reduce extraction of natural resources by 65%, according to a new study released today by Friends of the Earth Europe and the European Environmental Bureau. [1]

The report shows that the EU is already extracting and consuming a dangerous proportion of the world’s limited resources, with serious consequences:

  • The EU material footprint [2] is currently 14.5 tonnes per capita, about double what is considered a sustainable and just limit, and well over the global average. 
  • The EU alone already uses between 70% and 97% of the global environmentally ‘safe operating space’ related to resource extraction impacts. Any resource extraction beyond this ‘safe’ threshold threatens the stable functioning of the earth’s biophysical systems.
  • More environmental defenders are killed for opposing mining than opposing any other industry. 50 of the 212 environmental defenders killed worldwide in 2019 were campaigning to stop mining projects.

Yet European Green Deal plans are continuing on the path of ‘consumption as usual’, meaning enormous increases in mining for certain metals and minerals. For example batteries, primarily for electric vehicles, are predicted to drive up EU demand for lithium by almost 6000% by 2050. 

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Supplying such demand will inevitably lead to scarcity, conflicts and destructive mining, closely resembling social and environmental harms from digging up fossil fuels. The answer here is not simply to replace cars running on fossil fuels with electric cars – it is to also reduce private car use overall. [3]

These issues demonstrate that the green transition must be used as an opportunity to tackle the root causes of the broader climate and environmental crises - an economic system which drives overconsumption and social inequities in all sectors. As an urgent first step, the EU must set a material footprint reduction target of 65%. 

Meadhbh Bolger, resource justice campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe said: “The EU has a history of passing weak laws which fail again and again to reduce the amount of natural resources we consume, putting the remaining parts of the natural world and many communities under immense stress. The reason is simple: the laws are all predicated on economic growth, which is not compatible with a sustainable future.

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“The EU needs to wake up and set a headline target to cut material use by two-thirds so that the European Green Deal doesn’t become another footnote in the history of the destruction of the planet.”

Diego Marin, associate policy officer for Environmental Justice at the European Environmental Bureau said: “Recognizing that we cannot mine our way out of the climate crisis means that we need to stop the growth frenzy. It is as if current policies were driving a bus toward a cliff edge and the passengers were arguing about whether the bus should run on electricity or fossil fuels, when the more urgent question we should be asking is how we can stop the bus from plummeting down the cliff in the first place.

“End of pipe solutions alone no longer cut it, we need to tackle the many issues with the linear take-make-use-lose economy at the very source.”

[1] The report analyses various policies under the European Green Deal including the Circular Economy Action Plan, Raw Materials Strategy, trade policies and human rights legislation. It focuses on mining of metals and metallic minerals

[2] Total consumption of fossil fuels, biomass, metals and non-metallic minerals, including embodied in imports.

[3] The mining industry and governments must also stop attempts to greenwash mining, using the fact that certain metals and minerals are key for green technologies to greenwash the metal mining industry in general and promote the nonsensical concept of ‘green mining’. Metals like copper, iron and aluminum are overwhelmingly used in construction and other industries, such as the destructive military sector. 

Friends of the Earth Europe is the largest grassroots environmental network in Europe, uniting more than 30 national organisations with thousands of local groups. We are the European arm of Friends of the Earth International. We represent the network at the heart of the European Union and campaign for sustainable solutions to benefit the planet, people and our future. Read more on the website and follow on Twitter and Facebook.

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Russia

EU must be ready to not recognize Russian Duma elections says EPP

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Russia [nid:114228]

“We need an overhaul of Europe's policy vis-à-vis Russia. We must deter Russian threats, contain Russian interference within the EU and its neighbourhood and strategically support pro-democratic forces in Russia. We have to work on the assumption that change is possible in this country and that ‘democracy first’ is our first task in our relations with Russia. Russia can be a democracy,” said Andrius Kubilius MEP of EPP ahead of the 14 September plenary debate on the future of EU-Russia political relations.

A parliamentary Report, which Kubilius authored and which will be put to vote today (15 September), stresses that Europe should engage with Moscow on issues of common interest, such as arms control, peace building, global security or climate change. Such cooperation should, however, be strictly conditioned by the Kremlin’s willingness to observe human rights and international laws. “The cooperation in certain specific fields should not lead to any concessions on the EU’s values and should never disregard the implications for our partners. We need more courage in taking a strong stance vis-à-vis the Kremlin regime to defend human rights. We must make sure that any further engagement with the Kremlin depends on Mr Putin’s willingness to end aggressions, repressions and intimidations inside and outside Russia,” underlined Kubilius.

The report further stresses that the EU must be prepared to not recognise the Russian Duma and to suspend the country from international parliamentary assemblies, including that of the Council of Europe, in case this week's parliamentary elections in Russia are recognized as fraudulent. “People in Russia must have the right of choice, like people in any other democratic country. When key opposition players and opponents of the Russian ruling party are in prison or under house arrest, then there is no choice. The Kremlin’s continuous repression of all opposition candidates, free media or NGOs undermines the legitimacy and fairness of the elections. We reiterate that the opposition leader Alexei Navalny must be released as well as all those who supported him during peaceful protests,” concluded Kubilius.

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Germany

German Greens' co-leader defends embattled chancellor candidate

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Co-leaders of Germany's Green party Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock, also candidate for chancellor of the Greens, listen to NABU association leader Christian Unselt as they take a walk at the moors of the Biesenthaler Basin nature reserve after presenting an immediate climate protection program in Biesenthal near Bernau, northeastern Germany August 3, 2021. Tobias Schwarz/Pool via REUTERS

The co-leader of Germany's Greens on Sunday (8 August) defended the party's candidate for chancellor at next month's federal election, and brushed off suggestions that he should replace her after she made a string of costly mistakes, writes Paul Carrel, Reuters.

The ecologists briefly surged in the polls to overtake Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc after they named Annalena Baerbock (pictured) as their chancellor candidate in April, but have since waned.

Baerbock's error-strewn campaign has included mistakes in her resume and a scandal over a Christmas bonus payment that she failed to declare to parliament. Baerbock has also said that sexist scrutiny is holding her back. Read more.

"Ms Baerbock is suitable for the office of chancellor, and our task is to ensure that the Greens are strong," the party's co-leader, Robert Habeck, told broadcaster ZDF in an interview.

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Asked whether the Greens should replace Baerbock with him as their chancellor candidate, Habeck responded: "No, that's not a debate."

Adding to the Greens' woes, the party will be excluded from the ballot in the state of Saarland in the Sept. 26 national election due to irregularities in the selection of regional candidates following internal squabbling.

"The Greens campaign had a few problems but ... I'm looking forward to August and September," said Habeck, who is party co-leader with Baerbock. "Everything is possible."

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An opinion poll published earlier on Sunday showed the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD) drawing level with the Greens on 18%, behind Merkel's conservatives on 26%. Merkel, in power since 2005, plans to stand down after the election. Read more.

The INSA poll showed that in a hypothetical direct vote for chancellor, SPD candidate Olaf Scholz was well ahead, with 27% support. Conservative Armin Laschet languished on 14%, one point ahead of Baerbock, on 13%.

The Greens presented an "emergency climate protection programme" on Tuesday, aiming to reset their campaign. Read more.

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