The future Tobacco Products Directive, in its current version, proposes to maintain the ban on snus in Europe (snus is a smoke-free product available in Sweden that is considerably safer than cigarette) and to strongly regulate electronic cigarettes by limiting the dose they could deliver to such low levels that it would results in just killing the product for good.
Most of the Tobacco Control NGOs who can be heard in Brussels are totally opposed to lifting the ban on snus sales in Europe, and similarly oppose strong objections about e-cigarette sales. Their only goals seem to be willing to kill the tobacco industry, and to protect children from starting smoking , not to save the lives of millions of smokers. They pretend that liberalising sales of snus or e-cigarettes would favor adolescent initiation to smoking. For snus, because it would be easier for them to conceal their tobacco use (snus is put in the mouth and is not visible). For e-cigarette, because adolescents could be fooled by a product that could appear as safe.
The goal of the TPD is, at best, to reduce tobacco smoking in the EU by 2% in the next 5 years. This is far from what could and should be done. In France, as an example, the tobacco smoking prevalence increased from 2005 to 2010 after being on the decrease for the previous decade. Why? A report from the Cour des comptes published last December speaks for itself!
The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is a great achievement, and many provisions to control tobacco are evidence-based and represent a real improvement. However, the FCTC forgot about a very important aspect of tobacco dependence : tobacco harm reduction. The Tobacco Control community is currently mainly aiming at denormalising tobacco smoking wishing that it will convince all smokers to quit, and reduce youth initiation. It is a delusion. Tobacco use has been an addiction for thousands of years, despite the fact that cigarette smoking and the tobacco epidemic emerging from it is more recent. According to WHO, tobacco use killed about 100 million people in the 20th century, and if nothing is done to derail it, it may kill 1 billion people in the 21st century.
Tobacco harm reduction
I would suggest that you listen to Gerry Stimson (link below). His vision on the potential benefits emerging from snus and e-cigarette use on tobacco epidemic is a model. Harm reduction for IV drug addicts, with the introduction of needle exchange programmes or substitution, or for the use of condoms to avoid AIDS epidemic, were not accepted in one day. But currently, tobacco harm reduction is only supported by a few experts in the field.
Nicotine is partly responsible for tobacco dependence, but not harm. Nicotine is a pretty safe drug when used at doses a smoker or a « vaper » inhale. Tobacco harm is due to inhalation of smoke, whatever smoke it is (the one emanating from a barbecue is not less harmful !). Tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 substances, including more than 50 cancer causing substances, oxidant gases, and carbon monoxide (CO) highly harmful for the heart and the vascular system. The most immediate danger is coming from CO that bind to hemoglobin 200 times more strongly than oxygen itself, and so replaces oxygen in blood and reduces drastically its availability for body organs. This is one of the reasons for smoke free laws to take place, because second-hand smoke (the one that comes from a cigarette when not puffed by a smoker) is even more harmful than the smoke the smokers inhale (it is more concentrated in toxicants because combustion is less effective).
Using snus (a smokefree product), or an e-cigarette immediately stops smoke inhalation. The vapor produced by an e-cigarette contains mainly nicotine and its vector (propylene-glycol, glycerine, water, alcohol, and flavourings), none of the toxic substances from tobacco smoke. Consequently, before even considering long-term benefits, it is all the tobacco-related pulmonary diseases that are eradicated. Since there is no CO, most of the cardiovascular diseases are also eradicated. Try to imagine if only 20% to 30% of the smokers would immediately stop smoking and use snus or e-cigarettes. There would be immediate health benefits, and of course in the long run, huge health savings. And when it comes to savings, it will be both for the smoker and the health system, so the government, so the tax payer in the end.
But for all this to happen, it will need the support of our European Parlement representatives (MEP) to modify the current Tobacco Products Directive project, in order to allow the sales of snus in Europe*, and the e-cigarette to develop without extra burdens. The 4 mg/ml limit for e-liquids, or the 2 mg per cartridge, or a blood nicotine level of 4 ng/ml will not satisfy a smoker’s needs. Leaving the limit as it is in the project would mean killing the e-cigarette industry, and send back the smokers to smoke their cigarettes.
*(many smokefree products are available for sale all over Europe, only snus is banned when all the experts agree that it is considerably less harmful than these products).
Then why not just regulating e-cigarettes, as many people propose ? Well, just because this phenomenon has developed naturally among smokers by word of mouth, and that it seems to satisfy them. It is the first time in history that such a phenomenon is observed. It would then be non-constructive to over-control it. It just needs that consumers protection apply, and that safety and quality controls, even stronger than usual, are set up. But for no means e-cigarettes should be controlled like medicines. If some companies wishes to do it, it should then be possible and made clear in the Directive, but it should not apply to all. We know too well in the smoking cessation community that barriers to treatment de-route smokers from even trying to stop smoking. This is why we advocated in the past that all nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) should be sold over the counter (OTC), without requiring a prescription. I personally advocated at the time, that they should have been made available in tobacconists (they are only available in pharmacies in France, not even in general stores). But even when available OTC, most smokers don’t use them, the majority of them quit cold turkey. And this is not because of a lack of efficacy, as we hear too often. Used at sufficient dosage, and for long enough (often the use of patch + oral form is best), NRT helps smokers to quit.
And finally, if we leave the Directive in its current form, it will not help smokers, but it will certainly helps the cigarette industry. Their strong lobbying are very efficient in Brussels (as we could hear during the meeting of the ENVI Committee from representatives from tobacco growing countries. The speeches on the toxicity of contraband or counterfeit cigarettes was directly inspired from the tobacco industry). We need to act urgently in order to offer to European smokers the best protection. We should stop to lie to smokers, like WHO does, in saying that all tobacco products are equally harmful. This is simply not true. Tobacco smokefree products are safer than combustible products, snus is safer than most tobacco smokefree products, and e-cigarettes is probably not more harmful than many other consumer products. To finish, I would like to cite a pioneer in tobacco research that I had the privilege to know, Michael Russell, who in 1991 had this vision:
‘It is not so much the efficacy of new nicotine delivery systems as temporary aids to cessation, but their potential as long-term alternatives to tobacco that makes the virtual elimination of tobacco a realistic future target. … Such products should be actively promoted on the open market to compete with tobacco products. They will need health authority endorsement, tax advantages and support from anti-smoking movement if tobacco use is to be gradually phased out altogether.’
Sent on 5 March to Mrs Linda McAvan (firstname.lastname@example.org), rapporteure on Tobacco Directive http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/2327/LINDA_MCAVAN.html