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June 20, 20240

EU Health Ministers Consider Vape Flavor Ban

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Jim McDonald

At a meeting this Friday, health ministers from all 27 European Union member states will discuss proposals to restrict flavors in vapes and other consumer nicotine products, including nicotine pouches. Their position could lead to harsher vape regulations for millions of European nicotine consumers.

The Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO)—one of 10 “configurations” of the Council of the European Union—will consider proposals from Latvia and Denmark to support an EU-wide flavor ban and a crackdown on cross-border sales, among other recommendations. 

The Latvian document is also supported by the delegations from Cyprus, Estonia, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain. The Danish proposal is backed by Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Spain. 

The battle for reasonable EU vape regulation

While the process of instituting an EU-wide flavor ban would take more than a year, the apparent support for flavor restrictions from influential EU powers France and Germany makes the threat posed by the prohibitionist schemes especially menacing.

If the health ministers reach consensus support for these proposals, the next step would be to ask the European Commission to introduce draft legislation, which would eventually be voted on by the Council and the European Parliament. Along the way, national elections could soften or firm up support for a flavor ban by various countries.

Seven EU countries have passed laws prohibiting vape flavors: Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Lithuaniathe Netherlands, and Slovenia. Spain recently completed a public consultation on a proposed flavor ban, and according to EU Reporter, Latvia is in the process of introducing flavor restrictions.

No European country has passed an outright vape ban.

The claims: flavors target children; online sales prevent enforcement

The current Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), which regulates nicotine and tobacco product standards within the EU, allows the individual member states to set their own rules for flavors. 

But, according to the Latvian proposal, individual bans are ineffective because “cross-border distance sale for tobacco and/or related products (also including e-cigarettes) is not fully banned at the EU level, and does not prohibit cross-border sales.”

“Given the persistent disparities between Member States in regulation of flavors and flavor agents in e-cigarette liquids and cross-border distance sales,” says Latvia, “there is a need for developing further common regulation at the EU level.”

European advocacy organization Clearing the Air says the language in the Latvian proposal uses the preferred buzzwords of the Association of European Cancer Leagues (ECL), influential (and EU-funded) opponents of vaping and nicotine use.

The Danish document goes even further, adding a demand that the EU allow member states to ban entire categories of nicotine products.

“Initiatives should include a ban on flavours in nicotine products, a limit on nicotine content in these products and, where necessary, a ban on certain products….More broadly, we are calling the Commission to initiate a debate on nicotine-based products, while allowing it to examine the range of possible regulations, which could make it possible for Member States to ban defined product categories as well.” 

The proposals are couched in typical calls to “protect children” from being “targeted” by nicotine product manufacturers.

ETHRA urges following evidence, deliberation and consultation

Yesterday, European consumer group European Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (ETHRA) wrote to all EU health ministers to object to the proposals and explain the consequences of a flavor ban.

“We wish to urge caution and provide some factual context for the discussion,” wrote ETHRA. “The measures proposed are unlikely to protect young people and likely to do more harm than good overall. Full or partial bans on the manufacturing and supply of novel nicotine products will not prevent the underlying demand for nicotine. All safer nicotine products are flavoured in some way (including tobacco flavour); therefore, a ban on flavourings is a de facto ban.

“Prohibitions do not cause banned products to disappear or demand to dissipate.” 

ETHRA urges a four-pronged strategy to reduce youth access to vaping and other nicotine products:

  • A lawful regulated market
  • Age-secure retailing
  • Marketing controls
  • Control of flavor descriptors

The group asks EU health ministers to approach the scheduled revisions of the primary EU tobacco directives with “evidence, deliberation and meaningful consultation.”

“These are important directives that can have lethal or life-saving consequences for European citizens,” writes ETHRA. “We should not begin their revision with pre-ordained results that are based on weak or misleading evidence.”

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Jim McDonald

Vaping since: 13 years

Favorite products:

Favorite flavors: RY4-style tobaccos, fruits

Expertise in: Political and legal challenges, tobacco control haters, moral panics

Jim McDonald

Smokers created vaping without help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and I believe vapers have the right to continue innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I’m a member of the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy

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