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12 countries push for EU crackdown on vapes

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Denmark is leading a charge for a European clampdown on vapes in a move the country says will protect children and young people from harm.

A total of 12 EU health ministers, led by Denmark’s Sophie Løhde, have backed a paper calling on the European Commission to propose new legislation, which could include banning flavored vapes and limiting nicotine content.

They also suggest that social media giants take “greater responsibility” for marketing and sales of vapes on their platforms.

The pressure on the Commission to act on vapes comes after the EU executive delayed its planned reform of tobacco and nicotine rules earlier this year.

The setback triggered a backlash from Belgium’s Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke, who told the European Parliament’s health committee in January that industry lobbying was to blame for the Commission’s inaction.

Although Belgium isn’t one of the countries named in the paper, which was presented at a meeting of health ministers in Luxembourg on Friday, the supporters include big hitters France, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain.

“We are … calling on the new European Commission to act and to put forward proposals as soon as possible to help us protect our children and young people from the harmful effects of tobacco and nicotine products,” the group writes in the paper, seen by POLITICO.

The paper also calls on the Commission to launch a debate on nicotine-based products, and examine a “range of possible regulations, which could make it possible for Member States to ban defined product categories as well.”

The document points to a 2023 report which it said shows that children and adolescents are “more sensitive to the negative side effects of nicotine consumption and are also more prone to addiction than adults.”

It also says that tobacco and nicotine products are increasingly being “explicitly marketed to appeal to children and adolescents,” through flavors like bubblegum and chocolate, and are packaged “almost as if they were sweets.”

Latvia’s Artjoms Ursulskis, parliamentary secretary at the ministry of health, told ministers at the meeting: “The tobacco and nicotine industry truly continues to target our children with new products, with marketing techniques leading to early addiction.” Latvia has also authored a similar position paper.

But the paper wasn’t unanimously welcomed; one dissenting voice came from Greece.

While Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis said that “no one can dispute that member states must do everything possible to protect young people from tobacco and nicotine addiction,” he added that any revision of the tobacco legislation has to “stick to proportionality” and have an impact assessment.

Push for EU-wide controls

The Commission had been expected to release new guidelines regulating cigarettes and vapes in public places earlier this year, but that was put on hold after the Commission decided more work needed to be done. 

A draft version seen by POLITICO would have called on countries to protect the public from second-hand smoke produced by both cigarettes and aerosols from products such as e-cigarettes (vapes) and heated-tobacco devices. 

The executive was also expected to revisit the EU’s basic tobacco control rules, the Tobacco Products Directive, with more provisions targeting new products like vapes and heated tobacco. But that also hasn’t happened during this mandate.

Some EU countries have already taken national measures to clamp down on vapes, with France and Belgium having both announced a ban on disposable nicotine e-cigarettes.

But the group of 12 countries, which also include Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Poland and Slovenia, say national rules don’t always work because the products “are not limited by borders and national regulations.”

“They are easily accessible on the internet and from countries that have not developed a legal framework for such products,” the paper reads. 

A report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said earlier this year that tens of millions of young people see posts promoting nicotine pouches and vapes using discounts, giveaways and paid influencers, largely through Instagram.

“We need an ambitious European solution if we are to address this problem efficiently and to protect our children and young people from the harmful effects of nicotine and products that, in addition, can be a gateway for tobacco products,” Denmark’s paper said.

But the EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides defended the Commission in Friday’s meeting, saying: “We are not standing passively.”

The revision of the tobacco products directive was coming, she said, adding that “ultimately, we are all exactly on the same page that we need to protect citizens, and especially our young people and our children from the harmful effect of these products.”

This article has been updated.

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