The EU must take more action to regulate addictive harmful products

This is an opinion article by an external contributor. The views belong to the writer.
The EU must take more action to regulate addictive harmful products

Two years ago, Members of the European Parliament (MEP) adopted the Report on the Beating Cancer Plan.

They stated that “comprehensive preventive actions against cancer, through measures supporting the elimination or reduction of harm caused by modifiable risk factors should be implemented across all European policies and funding programmes”.

In particular, MEPs encouraged the Commission to “promote actions to reduce and prevent alcohol-related harm”. They also called the Commission to enact evidence-based policies, backed by the scientific community.

The Report on the Beating Cancer Plan constituted the basis for the ‘Report on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)’ from November of last year. Substance use disorders can lead to a wide range of health complications, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases, which are integral components of Non-Communicable Diseases.

NCDs are responsible for 80% of the burden of disease in EU countries, in part due to the harmful consumption of substances such as alcohol and tobacco smoking, prompting the European Parliament to action.

The Subcommittee on Public Health (SANT) acknowledged that “improved evidence-based health promotion, harm reduction policies and primary and secondary disease prevention can reduce the prevalence of NCDs by as much as 70%”.

The Committee called to the Commission to “promote evidence-based, proportionate measures aimed at reducing and preventing alcohol-related harm”. Rapporteur and MEP Erik Poulsen said “it is important to improve knowledge and sharing of best practices between member states”. There are many initiatives at national, regional or even local level, that should be considered as ‘success stories’ for an EU-wide regulation on treating the causes NCDs.

Citizens have their say

Last year, EU citizens were given the possibility to participate in a Public Consultation on the review of the tobacco legislative framework.

It was met with a large number of submissions (more than 17.000 single entries), with an overwhelming majority of contributions coming from EU citizens themselves (88% of all entries).

According to 79% of EU citizens - including former smokers - alternative products helped them quit smoking.

Respondents also showed discontent with the policymakers past handling of tobacco policies.

Only less than half considered that EU actions addressed the concerns regarding the use of traditional tobacco products.

EU citizens understand that the way smoking has been handled so far is not suitable to the reality many smokers face. Over the years, there has been unwavering support from both lawmakers and citizens for the cause of harm reduction.

Despite continuous efforts by MEPs urging the European Commission to consider their dedicated work and valuable input, the resounding call for evidence-based regulation has regrettably fallen on deaf ears within the regulatory sphere.

The question thus remains: Does the Commission truly heed the voices of those advocating for a more informed and effective approach?

Many consumers and civil society organsations worry to see the European Commission focused on its own restrictive understanding of substance regulation. The Commission seems to be working in silo, marginalising the voices that call for the regulation of alternative products to be based on the scientific evidence of their harm.

A few weeks ago, MEP Peter Lundgren asked “Why is the Commission seeking an extension of its power to adopt delegated acts, given the ongoing evaluation of the legislative framework for tobacco control?”. His question has not yet received an answer.

As of now, the evaluation report on the revision of the tobacco legislative framework is not published yet, and the Impact Assessment has not been started.

The ongoing revision of the tobacco legislative framework must ultimately result in an evidence-based directive and the future legislation must take into account the contribution of the European Parliament and the opinion of EU citizens.

MEPs who support this approach should open the dialogue and make their voices heard. Harm reduction must become an integral part of the EU approach to tackling smoking addiction and related cancer occurrence.

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