In a recent exchange of views between the SANT Subcommittee and Stella Kyriakides, the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, a wide array of topics were covered, ranging from Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan to the issue of nicotine pouches. However, some questions related to COP10, were not met with any answer.

The Committee’s meeting on February 1, 2024, included a discussion on various aspects of cancer prevention and treatment. Commissioner Kyriakides outlined the progress made under the Beating Cancer Plan, emphasizing its ambitious goals and the financial commitment behind it.

However, when it came to the COP10 session and nicotine pouches, the Commissioner was notably silent. MEP Johan Nissinen (ECR, SE) expressed concerns about the Commission’s possible plan to ban nicotine pouches, a significant topic for Sweden, given its successful efforts to become a smoke-free country to a great extent is based on making reduced risk products available and affordable. He also followed up with a question on how the parliament would be ensured to be involved in the COP10 negotiations, a fair question since the outcome of the conference can have direct effect on parts of European legislation that should be adopted by ordinary legislative procedure and as such, gives the directly elected European Parliament a significant role in shaping and approving EU legislation, thereby enhancing the democratic legitimacy of the EU’s decision-making processes.

The Commission’s stance on tobacco and nicotine-related issues is of immense interest for the THR community, especially considering the upcoming 10th session of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (COP10). The Commissioner’s evasion of the question raises eyebrows about the transparency and openness of the Commission in particular since the road to the recently postponed conference have been lined with controversies.

The convention has for example been strongly criticized for a number of different reasons including lack of transparency and lack of representation from key stakeholders. External actors such as COPWATCH have reported about multiple examples of non-papers that was circulated misrepresenting the risk of for example nicotine pouches.

There has also been allegations of interinstitutional foul play to sideline the European Parliament and the ordinary legislative procedure.  This issue has raised concerns and made several MEPs including Mr Nissinen asking for a formal explanation from the Commission.

Several Member States have also expressed dissatisfaction with being sidelined and have issued a joint statement criticizing the Commission for departing from the consensus-based approach previously used and for the Commission giving themselves an even more prominent role in the Panama negotiations. It is likely that this very clear objection from Member States contributed to the council taking a decision including both a clear position and a separate article saying that any “refinements” of the position will have to be done in close consultation with the Member States.

Under other circumstances one might have accepted that not all questions are given extensive answers in a hearing but after such a long running concern from both legislating institutions this lack of specificity in responses raises concerns about the Commission’s transparency and willingness to address critical issues.

In a time when public health is a top priority, citizens and policymakers alike deserve clear and direct answers. The COP10 session and the issue of nicotine pouches represent more than just a policy decision; they symbolize the Commission’s commitment to transparent and accountable governance in health matters. The evasive responses might leave some wondering about the depth of that commitment.

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