In our November newsletter, we said that “2020 could present some major challenges for which we will have to be ready so please keep watching our website and social media for news very soon, we will be asking for your help”. This was no idle or generic warning.

Preparations are already underway for a review of the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and, this week, an upcoming meeting between the Commission and ENVI – the EU’s health department -– was announced for the 20th and 21st of January. Rumours abound that this committee will wish to talk about the vaping scare in the US and try to employ it to force a harsher regulatory landscape in Europe.

We believe there is a prevailing sentiment amongst the EU Commission that they were beaten by consumers during the debates on the last TPD between 2012 and 2014 and have not forgiven us for it. No matter that the TPD is currently delivering effective outcomes by regulating e-cigarettes relatively wisely, the EU has a collective ambition to roll the clock back to 2011 and run all the same arguments again. Consider comments from former EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis who said in March 2019:

“If one uses electronic cigarettes as a method to stop smoking, it has to be managed by medical doctors and specialists, to be sold in pharmacies and not in supermarkets.”

This was the starting point for those trying to extinguish the potential of vaping 8 years ago, and it doesn’t seem that they are happy that medical regulations were not placed on e-cigarettes back then. He also dismissed the concept of harm reduction entirely:

“Harm is harm. No matter if it’s less or more.”

His second in command, Arūnas Vinčiūnas, went further, saying:

“E-cigarettes may be less harmful, according to some reports, but they’re still “poison,”

Andriukaitis and his cabinet only stepped down last month, but don’t expect anything to change. Finland is currently occupying the Presidency of the EU Council, and are being lobbied hard to fundamentally change the EU’s approach to e-cigarettes:

“Mounting evidence suggests that regulating flavours in e-cigarettes to protect youth is wise although not easy. Many countries are currently considering further regulations on e-cigarettes and so should the EU.”

Much like the CDC in the US, the EU will be keen to keep the ambiguity between e-liquid regulated under the TPD and illegal liquids causing all the harms seen in the US going for as long as possible. They are smarting that they were overrun by consumers last time around and see e-cigarettes as an itch they need to scratch into oblivion this time. The US vaping scare is exactly the tool they have been dreaming of to try to get their revenge over vapers for our impudence in resisting them when they previously tried to crush vaping.

The war on harm reduction in the EU is starting again. Much sooner than you realise, minds will be closed and positions taken. By the time any of us are asked for comment on this, policy proposals will already have been made. We are expecting the first significant discussions to start in the European Parliament as soon as the end of January 2020.

 Don’t think, either, that the UK leaving the EU will mean we are excluded from anything that arises out of the TPD. We don’t yet know what the trade agreement with the EU will look like, but it is quite possible that many directives will be part of “level playing field” arrangements in which the UK stays aligned with the EU, and it is highly likely that the TPD will be one of them. Politicians do not see smokers and vapers as a hill to die on, so TPD is probably not an area where divergence from the EU should be expected.

In the new year, we will be urging all UK and European consumers to be as active as possible and to replicate the intense efforts of past years and fight the same battles as before, but more intensely.

This is no time for complacency, there are real threats coming and we are going to need you to put yourselves out to protect your right to choose safer nicotine products. So, please enjoy your Christmas and New Year celebrations, but return refreshed and ready for a mighty battle in 2020 and beyond. This is, we assure you, not a drill.