What is the future of nicotine products among a right-leaning EU Parliament?

The result of the latest European Union elections is a clear twist to the right, signalling a potential shift towards a more business-friendly and deregulated environment for the vaping and heated tobacco industries.

After four days of voting across the EU that ended on Sunday, 9th June, voters in the 27 member states elected 720 lawmakers to be members of the European Parliament (MEPs) for the next five years.

The clear winner of the 2024 elections, the tenth in history and the most important in recent years for the tobacco industry, is the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) group. The EPP will remain the largest group in the new legislature, with 189 MEPs – a result that bodes well for Ursula von der Leyen of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union of Germany as she looks for a second term as president of the EU Commission.

Following the EPP are the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) with 135 seats, while the Renew Europe group secured 79 seats. The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) have won 73 seats, followed by the Identity and Democracy (ID) group claiming 58 seats, and the Greens with 53. The centre group Renew and the left group the Greens were those that lost the most seats (around 20 each).


The right could push back against flavour bans


Looking at the novel nicotine industry, this political change could lead to relaxed advertising restrictions, moderated taxation, improved waste management rather than prohibition when it comes to disposable vape products, and a focus on harm reduction.

Flavour bans, which have been a contentious issue, might face strong resistance from the new European Parliament, since the right-wing victory could mean preserving a variety of flavours on the market, provided they are marketed responsibly and do not target youth.

Although industry members and employees may breathe a sigh of relief, considering that political groups on the right have always been known as less likely to support strict regulation (even though this general trend can vary among countries), the EPP’s victory would not be enough to allow the right wing to form a majority on its own, opening the door to the chance of creating a transversal majority along with the S&D group and the liberals of Renew Europe.

However, dominating the headlines is the advance of far-right political parties, which made significant gains in most countries, including Germany, France, Belgium and Austria. These parties, according to a recent ECigIntelligence analysis, could lead to more lenient tobacco-control policies.


The left could come out in favour of harm reduction

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    In Germany, the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) – whose views on alternatives are unclear – came second with amount of seats from the country, just one seat ahead of German chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats. In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) – the only party across the country with a clear positive approach to tobacco alternatives – gained nearly 26% of the vote, topping a nationwide ballot for the first time.

    Belgium also saw the right-wing New Flemish Alliance (N-VA) – with a moderate position on novel nicotine products – emerging victorious. One of the winners of these elections is also the Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni, with her party Brothers of Italy, which is likely to be supportive of novel nicotine products. She is set to become a major player in the ECR group.

    The biggest loser in these elections is French president Emmanuel Macron, who dissolved his country’s National Assembly and called for snap elections – to be held in two rounds on 30th June and 7th July – after his Renaissance party got battered by Marine Le Pen’s National Rally party, which is part of the ID group.

    Macron, who currently lacks a majority in the French parliament, aims to achieve a clear legislative mandate but risks another victory for the far-right party, potentially leading to losing the presidency to Le Pen or Jordan Bardella, also of the National Rally party.

    It is unclear how the French snap elections could impact the industry at an EU level, but we do know that Le Pen is a firm supporter of novel nicotine products as a tool for smokers to quit. The Renaissance party also has prominent voices supporting the harm-reduction argument.


    A pragmatic approach is possible, but not a priority


    Meanwhile, Spain’s neo-Franco Vox party – whose position on novel nicotine is unclear – did not break through, and finished with six seats, three more than in 2019. The centre-right Popular Party (PP) came out on top, despite a positive performance by prime minister Pedro Sánchez’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).

    The two parties have opposite stances on novel nicotine products, with the PP supporting the study of alternatives as smoking-cessation tools and the PSOE considering these new products equally harmful as traditional ones, and aiming to equate their regulations.

    Elsewhere, left-wing parties across Nordic countries – often holding negative views towards novel tobacco and nicotine products – gained consensus, as in Denmark, Finland and Sweden.

    However, while it is challenging to make precise predictions on how this recent vote will impact harm-reduction policies and tobacco regulations, novel nicotine products will remain a significant focus of regulatory attention in the EU, and it seems this outcome is more likely to have secured a pragmatic approach on the issue. But it is very likely to slip behind other top priorities, such as immigration and climate policy.

    – Antonia Di Lorenzo ECigIntelligence staff

    Image: AI-generated

    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.