Next EU Parliament should listen to consumers on novel tobacco products

The next European Parliament should make sure that consumers’ demands are met, as its soon-to-be-elected members carry out the revision of the EU tobacco policy framework, according to current parliamentarian Pietro Fiocchi.

The Italian member of European Parliament (MEP), who is also running for the upcoming elections in June, told TobaccoIntelligence he hopes the Parliament will consider the feedback from citizens and stakeholders who took part in the European Commission’s public consultation over the tobacco policy framework revision process.

“As a co-legislator, the European Parliament will have a fundamental task in the revision process of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), as it will be able to use scientific evidence in its decision-making over a differentiated regulation,” said Fiocchi (pictured), referring to the need for clear differences between restrictions applied to traditional tobacco and alternative nicotine products.

“Consumers’ voices need to be taken into account and the public consultation’s results should not just be the outcome of a mere bureaucratic process,” Fiocchi added.


Parliament has a duty to support harm reduction


While the Commission’s 2023 consultation over the revision of the EU tobacco policy framework, which is defined by the TPD and the Tobacco Advertisement Directive (TAD), raised harsh criticism among industry members due to its alleged negative bias on alternatives to traditional tobacco, the Italian MEP said he believed harm-reduction policies will need to be supported by different political coalitions within the European Parliament.

“Not only do I think that the role of alternatives to traditional tobacco as aids to smoking cessation should be taken into account, I also believe the Parliament has a duty to implement regulation policies which clearly transpose the concept of support to harm reduction,” Fiocchi said.

“The European Parliament has already expressed itself favourably in this sense on two occasions, so the real question is not whether to take this into account but how all political forces can work together in the interest of all European citizens.”

According to the MEP, it is crucial for EU legislators to consider the different level of risk represented by cigarettes versus alternative nicotine products, in line with the EU anti-cancer policy.

“Treating new-generation products the same way as traditional smoking ones would be counterproductive for the objectives we set in our Beating Cancer Strategy (BECA),” he said.

“Alternatives to cigarettes should be regulated with a different legal and fiscal approach, based on their reduced-risk potential and, in particular, regulation should reflect the risk proportion of different products, which is not the same for tobacco and nicotine products,” he added.


Flavour bans are a mistake


In a 2022 interview with TobaccoIntelligence, Fiocchi said he didn’t believe in the effectiveness of bans and prohibitions.

He has now said he still believes flavour bans are a mistake when it comes to limiting youth access to tobacco products, with a particular reference to the EU ban on flavours in heated tobacco products (HTPs).

“Scientific evidence shows that HTPs carry a reduced risk compared to traditional smoking,” the MEP said.

Citing a 2018 study from the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) on the health risks of HTPs, Fiocchi said that “authors found out that the levels of the main carcinogenic agents are considerably reduced in the emissions of the products they analysed compared with traditional tobacco cigarettes”.

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    Referring to additional research carried out by the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Fiocchi said that the increase in HTP consumption may even be associated with a higher life expectancy for smokers at risk of dying from cancer.

    Limiting the offer of flavours for adult consumers, the MEP believes, may keep many smokers away from safer alternatives. “We need to increase the awareness over the fact that flavours are an important factor for smokers in search of alternatives,” he said.


    Following Sweden’s footsteps


    The Italian MEP believes Europe should follow the Swedish model when revising its tobacco policies, especially when it comes to the regulation of reduced-risk nicotine products.

    “EU member states can take advantage of Sweden’s success story,” he said. “We need to talk about facts, and facts say that the EU has set a smoking incidence target of 5% before 2040, which Sweden has already reached, halving its smoking incidence rate in the past ten years.”

    According to Fiocchi, the drop in the number of Swedish smokers was largely due to their transition to smoke-free alternatives such as snus and nicotine pouches.

    “Sweden has the lowest tobacco smoking-related mortality rate in Europe and the lowest incidence of lung cancer and other tobacco-induced pathologies,” he said. “This is thanks to regulation policies granting access to and the convenience of new-generation products.”

    Fiocchi also mentioned Estonia as an example of a country where a flavour ban has produced some unwanted effects. Citing data from an Ipsos survey commissioned by Tholos Foundation, Fiocchi said that prohibitionism only helped the illicit market.

    “A clear example is that of Estonia, where flavours other than tobacco and menthol were banned in 2020, but, despite the prohibition, nearly 60% of vapers still use them, as they retrieve these products elsewhere,” he said.


    Member states should be allowed leeway


    While pointing out two EU member states as examples of positive and negative policies, respectively, Fiocchi believes European countries should be allowed a certain flexibility when adapting their tobacco regulations to local realities.

    “I don’t think it would be realistic nor desirable for member states to apply the same laws and regulations,” he said. “Every member state has its own needs, culture and domestic market, and making them uniform would mean flattening differences among single European populations.”

    According to Fiocchi, the EU should only establish “guidelines based on proven scientific evidence”.

    Fiocchi, who serves within the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, was recently criticised by local media, political opponents and environmental activists in Italy, where he’s a member of prime minister Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) party, for a poster picturing him pointing a gun.

    The image, used to promote Fiocchi’s participation in a debate on hunting policies in Europe ahead of the Parliament renewal vote in June, reflects the MEP’s link with the gun industry of which he is a representative.

    TobaccoIntelligence’s interview with him was conducted prior to this incident.

    – Tiziana Cauli TobaccoIntelligence staff

    Photo: Fred Marvaux, 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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