EU could have met smoke-free targets had it embraced harm reduction sooner

If the EU had embraced harm reduction from the outset, it would have already achieved its smoke-free goals, according to a Swedish member of European Parliament (MEP).

Johan Nissinen (pictured), Swedish MEP with the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), said the EU should have followed the example of his home country in embracing harm reduction theories and allowing tobacco alternative products such as snus.

If the EU had done so, it would likely have achieved similar reductions in smoking rates as seen in Sweden, where around only 5.6% of the population are daily smokers, he said while speaking at the “Advancing Innovation: Solutions for a Smoke-free Future” event held on 29th May.

Nissinen believes this will be further reduced through recent government interventions such as the decision to lower duties on alternative tobacco products. “Sweden has implemented a real harm-reduction policy,” he said.


Differing views of Parliament and Commission


For the wider EU, Nissinen said the battle is not lost, and member states can still regain the initiative. The upcoming European Parliament elections will be an important moment in deciding the future of tobacco policy in the EU. And for harm-reduction advocates, there is reason to be optimistic.

Nissinen believes the EU Parliament will move slightly to the right and become more open to the idea of harm reduction as a concept. However, any actions it takes will be hampered by the European Commission (EC)’s much more prohibitionist outlook.

This difference in philosophy can be demonstrated by recent actions on the report from the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA), where the Commission pushed back on vaping-related issues, wanting to equate vaping to smoking, and issuing recommendations for higher taxation, prohibitions on outdoor use and flavour bans, according to another panellist at the event, Michael Landl, director of the World Vapers’ Alliance.

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    “The current TPD [EU Tobacco Products Directive] would look very different if the EC had its way,” Landl said during the event held by Parliament Magazine in conjunction with the free-market think tank Tholos Foundation. “Lots of regions look to the EU and copy/paste legislation. So decisions made here could have a worldwide effect. It’s time to get some heat on politicians’ feet.”


    Safer alternatives need to be made available


    Allowing anti-tobacco alternative policies to be implemented would be a mistake, said Nissinen. There need to be alternatives available as not everyone can just go cold turkey. The reasons for banning – such as young people possibly getting addicted to nicotine through alternative products – are not good enough to justify a full ban. “It’s easy to forbid all nicotine and tobacco products rather than getting into alternatives,” he said.

    He added that it is also easy to brand anyone against prohibition a tobacco lobbyist. After being called a snus lobbyist himself, Nissinen made up campaign snus containers he can distribute to potential voters.

    Instead of complete bans, Nissinen believes regulators should look at crafting rules to take care of issues such as controlling youth access – for example, there is no need for vaping products to be permitted on school grounds.

    “In the end, people will always use something. So it’s best to have a product that if they use, they won’t die from cancer,” he added.

    – Freddie Dawson ECigIntelligence staff

    Photo: Frédéric Marvaux, European Union 2024, EP

    Freddie Dawson

    Senior news editor
    Freddie studied at King’s College, London and City University and worked for publications including The Times, The Malay Mail, PathfinderBuzz and Solar Summary before joining the ECigIntelligence team. He has extensive experience in covering fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), manufacturing and technological innovation.

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