The Czech Republic is set to become the main EU proponent of tobacco harm-reduction policy following a change in philosophy among leaders, and is planning to implement a new decree for nicotine pouches in the near future as a result.
A new action plan is now expected to be debated, which will set harm reduction as part of the country’s public health strategy going forward, according to Ondřej Jakob, a spokesperson for the Czech Ministry of Health.
In the Czech Republic, harm reduction in the field of tobacco products has been the subject of a long-term debate, but to date, there has been no definitive agreement among experts about this policy’s impact on quitting nicotine addiction, he added.
“This issue has not yet been resolved. A decree is being prepared for nicotine pouches. It is to define their composition, appearance, quality, properties, and other parameters so that they have the least possible adverse effects on human health,” Jakob said. He added that the new decree is expected to determine the various factors that need to be taken into account in the production of nicotine pouches and that the Ministry of Health was in the process of preparing it.
Jakob told ECigIntelligence that the Czech Republic has a centralised policy on tobacco and other related fields such as alcohol. It is managed by the Office of the Government and is sourced from the National Strategy for the Prevention and Reduction of Damage Associated with Addictive Behaviour for the years 2019-2027. From within that framework, the Czech government adopts three-year action plans. It is that three-year action plan that is now up for review and renewal.
“At this point, we expect to hold a debate on a new action plan which should set the direction for the next three-year period, including on tobacco addiction,” Jakob said.
Tobacco alternatives could be ‘solutions to the problem’
Successful implementation of harm reduction into Czechia’s next three-year action plan could lead to the country also promoting vaping products as well as alternative tobacco products such as nicotine pouches or snus to current conventional cigarette smokers.
“Both electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products are debated” as potential solutions to the problem, he said.
However, the country remains unsure about the use of flavours and is currently “determined to ensure that the offer is limited”.
“We believe that the choice of flavours for new products should be set in the future to cover the unpleasant taste of the nicotine while maintaining the harm reduction principle,” he said. “At the same time, it should be limited as much as possible to attract as few people as possible, especially adolescents, so that another group of nicotine addicts is not unnecessarily created.”
“The threat to adolescents, both in terms of endangering their health and the emergence of new addicts, is still unresolved, which may also apply to current non-smokers. For this reason, there is an ongoing discussion in the Czech Republic on this matter,” he added.
The possibility of including harm reduction in Czech public health strategies going forward was made possible by prime minister Petr Fiala coming into power in November 2021. Fiala helped to resolve differences between the Czech Republic’s National Anti-Drug Office – which favoured harm reduction as a preferred policy for dealing with addiction based on the latest scientific evidence – and the country’s Ministry of Health – which preferred an abstinence approach as leading to the best health outcomes. Jindřich Vobořil, the Czech Republic’s national anti-drug coordinator, told a local health industry publication that he was now optimistic about the implementation of harm reduction by state authorities in the near future.
Czech health minister Vlastimil Válek is said to be in favour of a rational harm-reduction policy, and it is said that he is planning to promote the issue as one of the top items on the agenda of the Czech Republic’s forthcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union. Under the plan, Prague will preside over the council between July and December 2022.
What This Means: If the talk holds true, the Czech Republic could become the biggest advocate of harm reduction in the EU – taking over from the UK post-Brexit. And if it takes that philosophy to Brussels as part of its presidency of the Council of the European Union, it may potentially impact on the direction Brussels determines for the bloc’s health policy in the coming years.
– Jaroslaw Adamowski ECigIntelligence contributing writer
Photo: Lachlan Gowen