New MEPs may usher in less conservative EU approach to novel tobacco products

Changes in the European Parliament composition may favour a more open approach towards harm reduction. However, for the time being, the EU Commission (EC) maintains a conservative stance – which is likely to be reflected in its proposal of a revised EU tobacco policy framework, according to member of the European Parliament (MEP) Radka Maxová (pictured).

Maxová, from the Czech Republic, who serves within the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democratic (S&D) group, thinks that newly elected MEPs – following the vote for the renewal of the Parliament in June – may bring about some different, less restrictive positions in the regulation of novel nicotine and tobacco products.

“Of course, the composition of the Parliament can shift the balance of opinion,” Maxová told TobaccoIntelligence, “and so I hope that there will be more advocates of the harm-reduction approach when it comes to tobacco products.”

The Czech MEP said the revision process of the EU tobacco control policy will most likely be driven by conservative positions on novel tobacco products, even if awareness over the harm-reduction potential of novel tobacco products as safer alternatives to cigarette smoking is on the rise among EU officials.

“I still anticipate considerable influence from conservative positions,” she said, “but I think that there is also a growing recognition of the need for a nuanced approach that differentiates between traditional tobacco products and less harmful alternatives.”


Different individual positions complicating the TPD revision


While being a member of the S&D coalition, Maxová has her own position on tobacco control – inclined towards the acknowledgement of harm-reduction policies – which does not necessarily reflect that of other MEPs in her group, the second largest in the European Parliament after its latest renewal in 2019.

“Within the S&D group, opinions on tobacco product regulation do vary,” she said. “I continue promoting an understanding that harm reduction should play a key role in our approach, because it is evidence-based and realistic.”

Besides MEPs’ different individual positions, those of member states are also complicating the revision process of the Tobacco Product Directive (TPD) and the Tobacco Advertising Directive (TAD), which, along with the Tobacco Excise Directive (TED), determine the EU regulation framework on tobacco control.

The revision process of the TPD and TAD has been underway for two years now, suffering several delays and changes in its schedule, with MEPs still not being able to debate on an EC proposal.

These obstacles, Maxová said, may partly be explained with member states’ divergences on tobacco control policies.

“There is a lack of timely action and clear communication on this,” she said, “it can be explained by the different views and interests of the member states.”

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    MEPs from different member states clearly come from a diversified background on tobacco policies at a national level, with harm-reduction supporters in the EU Parliament pointing at Sweden as an example of a country that has policies and experience curbing smoking rates while promoting the use of alternative nicotine products.


    Still advocating for harm reduction


    Maxová also fully supports the incorporation of harm-reduction strategies in the EU’s tobacco control policies.

    In this sense, her stance has not changed since the first time she spoke with TobaccoIntelligence last year.

    “Indeed, as I already mentioned, we should apply a harm-reduction approach,” she said a year later. “This means aiming at reducing the negative consequences of the use of tobacco products instead of their elimination, as this approach is based on scientific evidence and experience from practice.”

    In line with this position, the socialist MEP does not believe in bans such as the one applied by an increasing number of EU countries on flavoured heated tobacco products, based on an EC directive.

    “This is a complex issue,” Maxová admits.

    “While it is intended to deter young people from initiating smoking, there is also a risk that such bans may inadvertently hinder harm reduction by limiting adult smokers’ access to less harmful alternatives,” she continued, “and this could potentially have a mixed impact on public health, as it might reduce initiation but also reduce the incentive for current smokers to switch to lower-risk alternatives.”

    Instead of banning flavours, Maxová believes EU authorities should make sure tobacco products are not accessible to minors.

    “A regulatory framework that would allow for a controlled availability of flavours could be considered,” she said, “for example, through strict age-verification processes and targeted marketing restrictions.”

     Tiziana Cauli TobaccoIntelligence staff

    Photo: Mathieu Cugno, European Union 2023, EP

    Tiziana Cauli

    Senior reporter/health & science editor
    Tiziana is an Italian journalist from Sardinia. She has worked for both international and local media in Italy, South Africa, France, Spain, the UK, Lebanon and Belgium. She also worked as a communications manager for several international NGOs in the humanitarian sector. Tiziana holds a degree in Political Science and a PhD in African Studies from the University of Cagliari and she’s a graduate of the Carlo De Martino school of journalism in Milan.

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