The European Union proposed on Wednesday a ban on the sale of flavored heated tobacco products, part of a broader campaign to phase out tobacco use and reduce cancer rates in the bloc.
The proposal, spurred by a surge in the sale of heated tobacco products, seeks to keep pace with new products entering the market and to protect younger people, Stella Kyriakides, health commissioner for the bloc’s executive arm, said in a statement.
“With nine out of 10 lung cancers caused by tobacco, we want to make smoking as unattractive as possible to protect the health of our citizens and save lives,” said Ms. Kyriakides, adding that her agency’s mission was to reduce tobacco use to 5 percent in member states by 2040.
Sales of heated tobacco products have skyrocketed in Europe, rising by more than 2,000 percent between 2018 and 2020, according to an E.U. Commission report released in June. The products now exceed 2.5 percent of the total sale of tobacco products across the region, the report said.
The ban would cover heated tobacco products, not those with nicotine alone.
The proposal comes amid broader scrutiny in Europe and the United States over the health effects of heated tobacco products and flavored nicotine products in vapes. It must still be approved by the European Council and European lawmakers; if the plan moves forward, member states will have several months to put a ban in place.
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Some public health bodies have suggested that heated tobacco products are less harmful than conventional cigarettes.
Heated tobacco was associated with 10 to 25 times lower exposure to a number of carcinogens, according to a 2020 study by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment in the Netherlands, which could mean a “substantially reduced relative risk” compared with normal cigarettes. In 2018, a U.K. parliamentary committee also published a report that said that heated tobacco was likely less harmful than conventional cigarettes.
Dustin Dahlmann, president of the Independent European Vaping Alliance, said if the bloc wanted to achieve its goal on tobacco use, alternatives to smoking needed to exist. Flavored products, he contended, would attract smokers wanting to quit.
But public health experts and lawmakers have raised concerns about the nicotine additive in some vaping products and whether alternative smoking products are simply encouraging nicotine use in young people.
The World Health Organization has called consumption of nicotine through vaping harmful but added that it was too soon to determine the long-term effects of their exposure. Nicotine consumption in children and adolescents has “deleterious impacts on brain development,” the organization said, adding that it could potentially lead to learning and anxiety disorders.
Last year, the Netherlands said it planned to ban flavored products used in e-cigarettes beginning in 2023 to discourage children and young people from using them, but keep tobacco flavors for people using them to quit smoking.
A spokesperson from British American Tobacco, the largest tobacco company in the world based on net sales, said the company was disappointed with the proposal, adding that a “holistic approach” that recognizes the role of “reduced-risk” tobacco and nicotine products was instead needed. (The spokesperson noted, however, that these products are still not risk-free and are addictive.)
Most recently, a U.S. court last week granted Juul, a vaping brand popular with teenagers, a temporary reprieve to keep e-cigarettes on the market following a decision by the Food and Drug Administration to ban them.