European Commission weighs up the benefits and risks of e-cigarettes
E-cigarettes are promoted in many countries as a safer alternative to tobacco. However, in the EU, there has been a long-running debate about the health effects of these products.
As e-cigarettes are so new, the Commission has been cautious when it comes to how they are regulated across the bloc.
At the moment, they are covered by the Tobacco Product Directive as they contain nicotine. However, a new report says they could fall under pharmaceutical regulation in the future.
The report, which was published last month, said the latest assessment of the risk of e-cigarettes by SCHEER (Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks) supported “the careful and precautionary approach taken so far.”
“The SCHEER opinion underlined the health consequences [of e-cigarettes] and the important role they play in smoking initiation,” the report said.
On the other hand, vaping advocates, which includes some health experts, say that e-cigarettes are a useful tool in the fight against tobacco, with much higher quit rates than other products.
Studies show that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes, so they can be used as a quitting aid. But, supporters say that EU policymakers have ignored this evidence so far.
Another argument put forward by some EU officials is that medicalizing e-cigarettes would make them less appealing to consumers. Although it has never been proven, they argue that it would make them less accessible, and this would limit the public health benefits.
The report also denies the idea that e-cigarettes are a harm reduction product, which is something the industry has presented. In the report, it says that they are popular among young adults and first-time smokers, not just smokers trying to quit.
There is evidence that some flavors are targeted at young people and teens. In recent years, some member states have banned certain flavors – like candy – for this reason.
Overall, although there are some risks that come with vaping, the devices do have the potential to offer lower risks than traditional cigarettes. This is something that the Commission will need to consider when reviewing the current regulations.