European Commission – Debate Rages About Classification of E-Cigarettes

European-Commission-logoVaporizers and e-cigarettes have been dominating the headlines in recent months – and not just in the US. Last month, the European Commission Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) published its findings on the health risks associated with vaping. These will form part of the decision-making process on how e-cigarettes should be classified, and specifically whether or not they fall under the 2014 Tobacco Product Directive (TPD). The long-awaited report, however, seems to have raised more questions than it answered.

e-Cigarette Use in Europe

Before we dive into what they said, it is interesting to note that the SCHEER report comes just a few weeks after market researchers at Eurobarometer published new data of their own on e-cigarette and vaporizer use. They reported that one in seven adults have tried vaping, and that this rises to more than one in three current smokers. Around half of those who have tried to quit smoking have experimented with e-cigarettes.

That data alone tells us that it is vital for consumers to understand how vaporizers work and to have some independent and reliable advice on the comparative health risks between smoking and vaping. It is in this last aspect that critics say SCHEER has fallen short.

Moderate Risk

SCHEER said they had reviewed “the most recent scientific and technical information,” but the overwhelming message coming from their statement was that there was insufficient data to draw firm conclusions on almost anything. The report said e-cigarettes present a “moderate” health risk to consumers, that nicotine vape juice is “implicated in the development of addiction” and that flavors added to e-liquids have a “relative contribution for attractiveness.”

None of the above points tell us anything we could not already have surmised. The committee described the common argument that vaporizers are an effective mechanism for smoking cessation as “weak” but said they are likely to represent a “gateway to smoking” for young people.

A Science Disconnect

Health ministers within the European Parliament have voiced concern at SCHEER’s findings. Specifically, the committee has not addressed what was supposed to be the main objective of its study, which was to examine the comparative health implications of smoking and vaping. Pietro Fiocchi is a member of the EU Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee. He described “a disconnect on the science” across Europe, as SCHEER’s findings on vaping to quit smoking contradict those of Public Health England.

Dustin Dahlmann from the Independent European Vape Alliance went further, and said that SCHEER has done nothing more than present “baseless assertions.” He added that without a comparative analysis of health implications, the report is “of little use to policymakers.”

Mr Dahlmann’s perspective is echoed by Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, a pharmacologist from the University of Patras in Greece. He referred to studies that show an improvement in the function of blood vessels when a smoker switches to vaping, and feels that it should be considered as a “third choice” for quitting smoking, if willpower or assistance from a medical professional are unsuccessful.

Further updates and reaction are expected from the European Commission in the coming weeks.

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