The European Parliament Plenary vote on the report on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) has sent a resounding message in support of harm reduction.

The European Parliament’s assertive stance, as reflected in the report, shows a clear expectation that the Commission integrates harm reduction principles into its review of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). This development holds significant implications for the regulatory landscape for nicotine pouches in the European Union, sending a potent signal that aligns with the principles of harm reduction.
The report emphasizes several crucial aspects, including evidence-based health promotion, harm reduction policies, and disease prevention. Paragraphs within the report stress the importance of preventive actions being grounded in evidence, and the need for ongoing scientific research on emerging tobacco and nicotine products.

As advocate of both harm reduction and evidence-based policymaking, the NNPA welcome this report and we are in particular pleased with the call for an evaluation of relative risk of novel products compared to other tobacco products, taking into consideration the threat posed to non-smokers, children and youth. We are convinced that nicotine pouches will be an outstanding example, setting the benchmark in such an evaluation as a policy direction. Since pouches are not combusted, heated, inhaled or even ingested, a majority of risk factors connected to other products are not relevant, not in the least second-hand smoke.

There is no overstating how important the challenge of tackling NCDs is for public health on a global scale. NCDs stand as the foremost cause of mortality within the European Union, accounting for approximately 77% of the overall disease burden in Europe. These encompass prevalent ailments like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, and mental disorders, collectively contributing to 86% of all deaths in Europe. There is a whole array of contributing health risk factors mentioned in the report including unhealthy eating, physical inactivity, smoking and the consumption of alcohol.

Prevention, already highlighted in the Parliament’s response to the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan and now reaffirmed in the current version of the report, is an important pillar to alleviate the suffering of European citizens battling cancer, but also other NCDs. This holistic and balanced approach, unfortunately, has been missing so far in the European Commission response to NCDs, including the Healthier Together Initiative and the Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, because it fails to consider harm reduction measures as a tool.

Nicotine use is addictive and as such considered controversial by some but for others it is a personal choice, either for purposes of leisure or as an alternative to smoking. We understand that one can have different views on the topic but any legislative decisions on this matter should transcend controversy and find solid ground in scientific evidence. The European Commission, as a regulatory body, holds a responsibility to base its decisions on thorough research and a comprehensive understanding of the relative risks involved. This is simply not done in the case of harm reduction and even when faced with overwhelming evidence supporting the positive contribution of alternatives to smoking, such as the Swedish example, the European Commission ignores it and have even on several occasions misrepresented and exaggerated the risk of nicotine pouches. It is crucial to move beyond entrenched perspectives and adopt a nuanced approach that incorporates harm reduction principles. Recognizing the approximately 80 million smokers in the EU emphasizes the urgent need for accessible, reduced-risk alternatives. To truly address public health concerns, the Commission must be open to evolving insights, fostering a regulatory environment that prioritizes both scientific accuracy and the well-being of millions seeking safer choices.

There are divisions within all political groups in the European parliament on this issue and the NNPA urges members of the tobacco harm reduction and pouch-user community, regardless of general ideological preferences, to ask their EP candidates of preference to share their views on the subject. The European Parliament is presently a strong supporter of using reduced risk products as a tool but it is hard to predict if the same voice will still resound after 2024 elections.

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