Compromise is key for the future of novel products and harm reduction in Europe

The next European Parliament may take a milder approach to tobacco alternatives, with a new mix of members who are likely to change Europe’s conservative stance on novel products and include harm-reduction strategies as part of the debate.

However, amid discussions on marketing restrictions and how to balance public health concerns and harm reduction, with representatives from the European tobacco industry apprehensive about the lack of dialogue between EU institutions and the tobacco industry, the spotlight is now also on how to ensure a major involvement from the industry when EU lawmakers formulate policies on tobacco alternatives and nicotine products. This can, of course, be complex due to worries over conflicts of interest.

In a previous interview with ECigIntelligence, Nathalie Darge, the secretary general of Tobacco Europe, pointed out that this lack of dialogue is based on a restrictive interpretation of article 5.3 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which requires parties to protect their public health policies from the interests of the tobacco industry.

When it comes to formulating European policies, finding a compromise between the WHO’s position – which has always been sceptical towards harm reduction – and industry representatives seems to be the most crucial challenge.

The WHO plays a critical role in global health governance and provides evidence-based recommendations to member states. But it is also important to recognise that perspectives on harm reduction can vary, and while the WHO has historically been cautious about harm-reduction approaches to tobacco control, others believe it can be quite beneficial, and in the end both views should be taken into consideration through a balanced compromise.


Openness to harm reduction regardless of political beliefs

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    Establishing clear guidelines on the interactions between policy-makers and the industry, requiring transparency from the latter regarding their involvement – including disclosing any financial contributions, lobbying activities and relationships with policy-makers – might be a solution to improve the dialogue between the two. While it seems difficult to reshape the consultation process launched by the European Commission as part of the revision of the EU tobacco policy framework, it is clear that a transparent and balanced process – with input from a wide range of stakeholders – is needed and cannot be ignored.

    The same transparency should be required of EU institutions in order to establish a compromise. This of course does not mean agreeing with all the points the industry raises, but it would give industry representatives the opportunity to be part of the conversation.

    Some members of European Parliament (MEPs) within the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, recently interviewed by ECigIntelligence, believe that Europeans would vote for MEPs who understand the importance of harm reduction, expressing optimism that the new term is likely to take a more practical approach than the one that came before, perhaps leading to the adoption of regulations that put fewer limits on the products.

    Despite being a member of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democratic (S&D) coalition, Czech MEP Radka Maxová also showed herself to be inclined to acknowledge harm-reduction policies. Her position does not necessarily reflect that of other MEPs in her group, which is the second largest in the European Parliament after the last elections in 2019, but it marks an openness to harm reduction from certain members regardless of their political beliefs. And that could bode well for the future of tobacco alternatives at the European level.

    – Antonia Di Lorenzo ECigIntelligence staff

    Photo: Emilie Gomez, European Union 2024, EP

    Antonia Di Lorenzo

    Assistant news editor/senior reporter
    Antonia is a member of the editorial team and holds a masters degree in Law from the University of Naples Federico II, Italy. She moved in 2013 to London, where she completed a postgraduate course at the London School of Journalism. In the UK, she worked as a news reporter for a financial newswire and a magazine before moving to Barcelona in 2019.