Over a year ago, the Commission proposed Europe's Beating Cancer Plan and revealed its ambition to build a tobacco-free generation by 2040. Notwithstanding its utopian nature, this objective was set in a particular health context marked by the global pandemic in which the Commission’s insistence on endgame is even harder to understand.
In the meantime, however, the people have become familiar with the idea that minimizing harm is a key to cancer prevention and scientific opinion has been placed at the heart of public policy in many jurisprudences around the globe. It is in this context that the European Parliament's Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) issued an encouraging report recently also supported by the plenary assembly which recognizes harm reduction.
From utopia to realism
On 3 February 2021, the Commission's plan sounded like an ideological war declaration against addiction. Driven by the illusion of a world without addiction, the proposal completely disregarded the solid body of scientific evidence already existing which could deconstruct this way that was so many times debunk by history. Fortunately, the European Parliament has seized its opportunity not to repeat the mistakes of the past and has adopted a different approach. EU’s elected chamber has supported the French oncologist MEP Véronique Trillet-Lenoir’s report that has recognised the importance of science in its long-term strategy regarding addictions that cause cancers. Europe has thus moved from a utopian approach and sowed a seed of realism in its policy towards addictions acknowledging the role to be played by measures based on minimizing and reducing harm in building a healthier Europe.
The European Parliament in harmony with science
During the 15 February 2022 debate on strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer, MEPs from various sides of the political spectrum have proven their engagement in rolling out the red carpet to scientists to respond to a health-related phenomenon. The positive change in terms of science-based understanding of future policy on addictions took form in three key elements of the report:
Applying a relative risk approach
The European Parliament called the Commission to follow up on the scientific assessments of the health risks related to electronic cigarettes, heated tobacco products and novel tobacco products. It also included the assessment of the risks of using their products compared to consuming other tobacco products. By applying a relative risk approach towards tobacco products, the elected chamber has echoed science which recognizes that tobacco harm reduction (THR) products can have a different relative risk to other tobacco products.
Towards a recognition of THR products’ role
The European decision-makers also made a step towards scientists such as Lucchiari (2020) and Glasser (2020) as they recognized the role of electronic cigarettes as a progressive gate away from smoking. This represents the culmination of decades of scientific research and encouraging practical results which have been noted in countries such as Japan and the UK with the adoption of other smoking alternatives such as vaping products.
Treating flavors in e-cigarettes differently
Finally, the BECA report has proposed a differentiated legislation for e-cigarettes with regards to flavors. This highlighted the will from elected members to start considering harm reduction products differently from smoking and strengthen the idea that mere banning or restricting the use of certain substances will not enable the politicians to reach their ambitions and may even stand as threats to those addicted to smoking.
IRAP strongly welcomes that first steps have been taken in the right direction reflecting science and therefore better protecting European citizens. IRAP believes that with the quickly evolving context and the EU being on the way to endemic, the lasting effects of COVID-19 will be all the more glaring and the situation will call for both urgent actions and long-term strategies. IRAP hopes that the European Parliament will continue its positive work on addictions despite the end of the BECA Committee’s work. We also hope that the European Commission will heed the call by the Parliament for harm reduction and a relative risk approach in their upcoming work on the revision of the Tobacco Products Directive.
Institute for Rational Addiction Policies (IRAP) is a multi-disciplinary think-tank of independent and reputable experts that studies the question of addiction from all sides (public and individual health, legislation and other legal effects, security matters, economics and market modelling, tax issues, effects on the state budget, education and prevention, and social, sociological, and political question.
 Ann Mcneill and others, 'Evidence review of e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products 2018: executive summary' (E-cigarettes and heated tobacco products: evidence review, 2 March 2018)  Claudio Lucchiari and others, 'Benefits of e-cigarettes in smoking reduction and in pulmonary health among chronic smokers undergoing a lung cancer screening program at 6 months' [April 2020] 103(106222) Elsevier  Glasser A, 'Patterns of e-cigarette use and subsequent cigarette smoking cessation over two years (2013/2014 to 2015/2016) in the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study' [September 2020] Prime PubMed