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Harm reduction

EU crackdown on vaping is bad news for public health

Unsplash Creative 0.0: Photo by Dylan Nolte

The Beating Cancer Plan will make vaping harder...

The leaked Commission proposal for the EU's Beating Cancer Plan has revealed the bloc’s plans to make harm reducing products such as vaping devices harder to access and consume in the European Union. Under this proposal, the EU would hike taxation rules on vaping products to match those of conventional cigarettes, treating those products as equivalent threats to human health.

This ignores existing public health research. As Public Health England has confirmed, vaping is 95% safer than conventional tobacco. Adding to that, vaping has consistently been shown to be an effective method of fuelling smoking cessation, i.e. helping those smokers who choose to quit, to do so. With such an innovation, the EU should rejoice in the existence of tobacco alternatives that offer a solution —- something policy-makers have not managed to achieve through brute policy for decades.

Increasing taxation levels will increase the price of vaping products, and give many smokers yet another reason not to quit, which would be terrible news for public health. In many EU member states, cigarette prices are at such high levels that they have already fueled the rise of black-market producers. A blanket tax hike can, therefore, produce one of two results: either it will fuel an equally sizable black market for vaping (which is currently a more economical solution for consumers than cigarettes in many countries), or it will lead many vapers returning to the more harmful option of smoking.

Another suggestion made by the European Commission is the phasing-out and eventual restriction of vape flavours. Vaping devices are known for their fancy flavour options, from traditional fruit flavours to more extravagant ones. Smokers switch to vaping precisely because of these flavour options. Phasing them out would reduce that incentive. 

Well-intended policy-makers believe this proposal would prevent teens from using these products. But vaping is, and remains, something that should only be used by informed adults. There may be examples of underaged people who have acquired vape devices and liquids, but this is far from the fault of responsible adult users and law-abiding retailers. Governments should impose harsher fines on retailers and other individuals who facilitate the sale of vapes to minors, yet recognise that vaping represents a real opportunity for adult users.

The Commission is also proposing to restrict vaping in public areas, similar to cigarettes. Here again, we should appeal to the common sense of vapers to behave responsibly and respectfully in public places, without needing to equate vaping with smoking. And without encroaching on member state jurisdiction. 

Creating more hurdles for smokers to switch to innovative vaping solutions is a step in the wrong direction — this EU proposal would actively destroy much of the healthier transition that former smokers have made in the last years.

Hopefully, the European Parliament will take a more nuanced point of view. Some parliamentarians have expressed the will to include vaping as a smoking cessation tool in the final proposal, and experts testifying in EP committees have underlined that this is based on scientific evidence. The Parliament now needs to put its foot down, and strongly oppose the Commission narrative on vaping.

Governments have tried for decades to get people off smoking and have had limited impact. The true innovations have arisen from market solutions like vaping.  Why not allow innovative solutions to be explored and endorsed, especially when government scientific agencies are confirming their safety? If it's really about beating cancer, then let's do it together, not against the science.

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