The EU Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) final opinion on e-cigarettes is a step backwards for vaping and for public health. It is based on weak data, ignores crucial scientific evidence and experience from consumers, and has been designed in such a way that it ignores vaping’s biggest strength – its power to reduce the harm from smoking.
Last year, SCHEER was appointed by the European Commission to produce a report on vaping and its health impacts. Their preliminary report, released in September, was met with widespread criticism from scientists, public health experts and vapers. Riddled with old data, cherry picked studies and a general lack of knowledge about vaping, it painted a bleak picture.
The reaction from scientists and consumers was huge. 691 formal submissions were made in response to the preliminary report. Renowned public health expert Clive Bates set out a list of 11 flaws in the report. These included the failure to compare vaping with tobacco cigarettes and other benchmarks, ignoring and selectively interpreting evidence, and a complete absence of policy impact research. The overall message was clear – the preliminary had really very little scientific value.
At the same time as SCHEER was conducting this flawed analysis, a number of serious studies in the UK were released which directly contradict SCHEER’s findings. A COCHRANE review of more than 50 studies found that smoking is effective for those who want to quit smoking. Public Health England’s report on e-cigarettes found that 50,000 extra smokers quit in a year thanks to vaping. These reports directly contradict the SCHEER finding, but were ignored in its report.
Seven months later, in late April of 2021, SCHEER released its final report. Although it rowed back on some of the most outrageous claims, it remains a flawed study which does not offer a fair assessment of the potential of vaping.
While the first report claimed there was ‘strong evidence’ that vaping is a gateway to smoking for young people, the final report downgrades this evidence to ‘moderate’. Likewise, the evidence on the cardiovascular effects of vaping is downgraded from strong to moderate.
The consultation response made a difference, with expert and consumer participation moving the needle. But saying that there is moderate evidence for some of these claims is simply not true– the gateway hypothesis has been disproven time and again through surveys and studies, but it remains one of the pillars of anti-vaping campaigners. Because they know it scares the public the most.
The final report maintains that there is only limited evidence that vaping is an effective tool to quit smoking. The report dismisses the millions of people in Europe and around the world who have quit smoking as “anecdotal evidence”, ignoring their life-changing experience. Vaping has clearly brought smoking rates down around the world. Where vaping has been encouraged as an alternative to smoking, for example in the UK, smoking rates have fallen massively.
The claim that non-smokers will get introduced en masse to smoking due to vaping is simply not supported by data. In the UK, the newest Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) report states that “only 0.3% of never-smokers are current vapers (amounting to 2.9% of vapers), down from 0.8% in 2019”. With smoking rates continuing to decline massively in the UK, the gateway claims simply don’t add up.
Aside from all of the shoddy data, there is one all-encompassing flaw in SCHEER’s report. For some inexplicable reason, the EU Commission asked SCHEER to analyse e-cigarettes in a vacuum, without any comparison with smoking tobacco. This makes absolutely no sense. The report seems to have been designed to ignore the harm reduction capability of vaping.
By designing the report in this way, the Commission showed that they do not understand, or worse do not want to understand, the role vaping can play in reducing the harm of tobacco smoking. This will undoubtedly hurt Europe’s ambitions to ‘Beat Cancer’ and reduce smoking rates.
SCHEER’s report completely misses the mark. It is undoubtedly a set-back from vaping and for public health.
Michael Landl Director at the World Vapers Alliance