Retail sector wants to play bigger role in European policy on tobacco alternatives

The European Confederation of Tobacco Retailers (CEDT) has called for greater involvement of the retail sector when EU lawmakers formulate policies on tobacco alternatives and nicotine products.

“All over the world there are tobacco retailers; they must be included in the discussions about our future,” said Peter Schweinschwaller (pictured), president of CEDT – a Brussels-based group bringing together national associations of tobacco retailers – when interviewed by ECigIntelligence ahead of the upcoming June elections for the next European Parliament.

Nevertheless, he remains optimistic about the impact the elections may have on the regulation of novel nicotine and tobacco products, and hopes the next policies will be balanced and not based on demagogy. “It is a cardinal principle of the European Union to regulate in such a way that the rules are not disproportionate to the objective to be achieved,” Schweinschwaller said.

The election outcome, while still unpredictable, could impact the future of smoking alternatives and reshape the narrative around harm-reduction strategies.

 

Allowing retailers to make a ‘positive contribution’

 

Schweinschwaller believes the retail sector has not been sufficiently involved in policy review and that EU lawmakers should also engage with small family businesses in the sector – beyond consumers, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and health authorities.

“Policies on alternative products cannot disregard the retail sector, and we are at the complete disposal of the institutions to provide a positive contribution based on our experience,” he said. “The instrument of public consultation is not sufficient to analyse every aspect of our sector. Direct comparisons are needed.”

Commenting on whether the World Health Organization (WHO)’s stance – which has always been sceptical towards harm reduction – should be taken into account when formulating European policies on alternative tobacco and nicotine products, Schweinschwaller said: “It will happen anyway. Due to a lot of signed engagements, many countries will have to follow the WHO’s position. However, we believe that the discussion about it cannot be held behind closed doors.”

Likewise, in an earlier interview with ECigIntelligence, Nathalie Darge, secretary general and head of EU affairs with Brussels-based industry organisation Tobacco Europe, said EU authorities have so far avoided talking with the European tobacco sector. According to Darge, the lack of dialogue between EU institutions and the tobacco industry is based on a restrictive interpretation of article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which requires parties to protect their public health policies from the interests of the tobacco industry.

“I do hope that the new Commission and the new members of the European Parliament [MEPs] will take this opportunity to just meet us, which doesn’t mean they have to agree with us but just listen to our voices,” Darge said, pointing out that discussing harm reduction and novel products with tobacco industry representatives would be useful for EU policy-makers.

 

Balance between public health concerns and harm reduction

 

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    Schweinschwaller believes a legislative proposal to harmonise novel and traditional tobacco and nicotine product regulation should include alternative products, such as heated tobacco and nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, in the tobacco products category to ensure regulations on alternatives strike a balance between public health concerns and the potential benefits these products may offer to harm reduction. Circulation and distribution would consequently take place in state-controlled channels, to the benefit of consumers – who would be assured of compliance with the strict quality and regulatory standards set by the EU.

    “Moreover, we believe that the taxation of new-generation products should be as balanced as possible,” he added, “since significant price increases have serious effects on the profitability of the supply chain and retail outlets, creating the conditions for a considerable increase in the illegal market – especially online – with serious harm to public health.”

     

    Concerns about marketing restrictions

     

    EU discussions on novel nicotine products will likely focus on concerns about youth initiation and consumption and, in particular, measures to prevent under-age access and curb youth use – such as flavour bans and marketing restrictions. In this regard, Schweinschwaller agrees with measures to prevent aggressive marketing strategies that might undermine policies to protect vulnerable segments of the population.

    “However, the confederation believes that commercial information on new products introduced on the market must always be allowed inside retail outlets,” he added. “Otherwise, with such stringent regulation at the EU and national level, how could customers be informed to be able to make increasingly conscious consumer choices?” Likewise, regarding the regulation of flavours, he believes institutions must play an active role in targeted information and prevention campaigns related to smoking.

     

    Uniform regulation across EU borders

     

    Discussions about novel nicotine products in the EU may also consider international trends and developments. This could include comparisons with regulations and policies in other countries, as well as discussions about trade implications.

    “For the moment, each country takes the emotional decision to take products out of the market,” said Schweinschwaller, whereas he thinks the EU should uniformly regulate new products to ensure each member state applies consistent regulation and enforcement of alternative policies across borders “by regulating them in such a way that both sales and distribution take place through controlled channels and avoid unbalanced taxation”.

    “Otherwise, the illicit market’s doors would open wide,” he added, “with all the consequences in terms of loss of fiscal revenue and, above all, health risks for citizens due to no health controls on products.”

    Depending on the composition of the European Parliament and other relevant bodies, there may be changes in priorities, alliances and policy approaches. Overall, there is a chance a milder outlook on alternatives to traditional cigarettes will emerge, with right-wing/centrist groups, such as the European People’s Party Group (EPP), European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR), and Identity and Democracy Group (ID), polling well. These groups are less likely to support strict regulation, which would – at the very least – maintain the status quo at a significant time for non-smoking nicotine products, as both the EU Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and Tobacco Excise Directive (TED) will be revised.

    – Antonia Di Lorenzo ECigIntelligence staff

    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.

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