A recent public consultation launched by the European Commission (EC) to evaluate the revision of Europe’s tobacco laws has raised criticism among respondents, some of whom said questions submitted to industry members were biased against lower-risk nicotine-based smoking alternatives.
The EC consultation on how to update its tobacco control framework through the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and the Tobacco Advertising Directive (TAD) was launched in February and ended on 16th May. It targeted different groups of industry members, including tobacco companies, public authorities, non-governmental organisations, research institutions, consumer associations and ordinary citizens, among others. The questionnaires sent out differed a bit depending on the category recipients fell into.
According to Markus Lindblad, head of external affairs with Swedish-based nicotine pouch e-seller Haypp Group, the EC failed to question its assumptions through the public consultation, which ended up reinforcing biases against tobacco-free smoking alternatives.
“The Commission, at times, may need to revisit its initial assumptions, questioning their grounding,” Lindblad told TobaccoIntelligence. “Rather than engaging in such critical self-assessment, the trend diverts in a different direction, persisting on the same path while reinforcing preconceived ideas of reality. The questionnaire serves as a poignant example of this.”
Through its lobbying organisation Pouch Patrol, when the EC consultation was open, Haypp appealed for industry members to report the questionnaire, as it appeared to be biased and lead respondents to consider tobacco and alternative nicotine products as equally harmful.
“If the respondents weren’t provided an adequate opportunity to articulate their responses, can it even be considered to be a valid feedback mechanism?” Lindblad said, adding that customers and business partners had got in touch with the company expressing doubts about the questionnaire.
“There’s a potential risk of adhering to someone else’s agenda if the framing of the questions isn’t thoroughly examined,” Lindblad said. “We saw a need to reach out and explain this to a broader audience, so we created a guide on how to report the form.”
Haypp invited respondents to report the consultation forms as “political propaganda”, an option provided by the consultation website.
Lindblad said the appeal was met with reluctance at the beginning. “In the initial phase, stakeholders were sceptical about reporting the form. It required several discussions to establish that one doesn’t need to accept the Commission’s perspective without questions.”
MEPs press the Commission, get no response
A month after the consultation ended, the company said it has no knowledge of how many people reported the questionnaire. “Unfortunately, there is a lack of transparency when a public consultation is reported,” Lindblad said. “We are still waiting to receive feedback and, to be honest, I’m not sure if we are ever going to receive it.”
Lindblad, who told TobaccoIntelligence Haypp is contemplating “escalating the matter” to the European Ombudsman, which investigates complaints about maladministration on behalf of EU institutions, said Haypp was “heartened” by reactions to the EC consultation expressed by some members of European Parliament (MEPs).
European People’s Party (EPP) members Jessica Polfjärd and Jörgen Warborn of Sweden asked for clarifications on how the EC intended to ensure a transparent consultation process, and pushed for a reformulation of the questions in the form, but, Lindblad said, “regrettably, the Commission did not take any action in this regard”.
The two Swedish MEPs are among those advocating for less harmful alternatives to tobacco not to be treated as traditional smoking products by the new EU tobacco regulation.
In a recent interview with TobaccoIntelligence, Polfjärd said that snus, which are widespread in Sweden, and other oral products “would play an important part in providing substitutes for regular cigarettes and other more harmful products if they were provided on EU markets as other alternative products currently are”.
The consultation on the revision of the tobacco control framework is not the first of its kind to be launched by the EC, although on this occasion the questionnaires appear to be more detailed, adapted to different stakeholder categories, and covering a broader scope.
It was preceded by a call for evidence, and will be followed by a consultation for industry members.
– Tiziana Cauli TobaccoIntelligence staff