Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are raising concerns over what they consider a possible plot by EU bureaucrats to endorse and implement “extreme WHO positions” on tobacco control with no previous consultation.
Two MEPs recently submitted parliamentary questions about the possibility that the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), to be held in Panama this month, would be used to push the EU to adopt conservative positions without consulting the European Parliament or EU member states.
“Officials from the Commission and the European Council aim to force Parliament into opposing positions on vape products, pouches and heated tobacco items, sidestepping democratic scrutiny,” wrote MEP Johan Nissinen, a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group, in a letter he submitted to the European Parliament on 24th October.
The Swedish MEP said he believed the European Commission (EC) and Council officials would first endorse and then present those positions as international law requirements for the EU, which posed a transparency problem and could affect harm reduction across the continent.
“This covert approach bypasses public and parliamentary consultation and could potentially harm the health of millions of Europeans using safer smoke-free nicotine products,” Nissinen wrote.
“EU negotiators intend to implement these decisions without transparency, raising concerns about the democratic process,” he added.
The MEP then said that external pressures should not influence the EU legislation and regulation processes and formally asked three questions to the EC for written answer.
Skirting Parliament deemed ‘unacceptable’
Nissinen asked what concerns had been raised about the lack of parliamentary and public consultation in this matter and about the impact this approach may have on the health of EU citizens using smoke-free nicotine products.
He also asked the EC what steps it recommended in order to counter the lack of transparency and accountability in EU policy-making processes on tobacco control.
Lastly, Nissinen enquired about the role of COP10 in shaping international tobacco control policies and on how these policies are integrated within the EU regulatory framework.
The ECR Group representative was not the only MEP to raise doubts over the Commission’s approach to COP.
In October, Sara Skyttedal, a member of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) coalition, said she had submitted a question to the EC about its alleged intention to adopt anti-harm-reduction measures approved by COP10.
In particular, the Swedish Christian Democrat believed the EC had a plan to ban nicotine pouches through its participation in COP10.
“EU Commission seems to want to use the WHO to enforce a ban on nicotine pouches, she said on X, the social media platform previously known as Twitter. “This without having sought an opinion from the European Parliament. Unacceptable.”
Bypassing not only scrutiny but also consent
In her letter to the EC, which was submitted on 13th October but has not yet been published, Skyttedal explained how the Commission proposed a European Council decision regarding the EU position at COP10.
Based on the decision, the Commission will be able to change the EU position “during on-the-spot coordination meetings, without a further decision of the Council,” which means the EC will be able to bypass member states.
Member states, however, as signatories of the WHO FCTC, Skyttedal wrote, are legally bound by COP decisions, “meaning that the Commission would be imposing international legal requirements on member states without their consent”.
Skyttedal said that changes in the EU tobacco policy are based on ordinary legislative procedure, requiring European Parliament scrutiny.
“Parliament has not been consulted here, but will soon be asked to examine proposals on tobacco control,” she said.
The MEP formally asked the EC: “Will the Commission ensure that the decisions taken at COP are taken without prejudice of future legislative decisions of the EU institutions?”
She added: “Does the Commission intend to use this system in other international negotiations, and if so which ones?”
A ban on oral products?
Earlier in October, another MEP from the ECR Group, Charlie Weimers, had revealed the existence of a still unpublished Commission report allegedly circulating within the European Parliament which advocated for an EU-wide ban on oral tobacco and nicotine-containing oral products.
Referring to the leaked document and to Skyttedal’s letter to the Commission, harm reduction advocate Clive Bates wrote in his blog that bureaucrats in the EU and in the European Council were using the WHO “to bounce the European Parliament and their own legislatures into hostile positions on vapes, pouches and heated tobacco products”.
– Tiziana Cauli TobaccoIntelligence staff
Photo: Stefan Steinbauer