The European Commission wants to further curb tobacco use

CC – 06/2022

In addition to cigarettes, smokers are increasingly turning to electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) or tobacco heaters. Against this backdrop, the European Commission is currently examining measures to further reduce tobacco use in the population through a consultation. This will take into account changes in consumption and products.

Novel tobacco and nicotine-containing products popular with young people

In its Beating Cancer Plan, the European Commission has set itself the ambitious goal of creating a "smoke-free generation". By 2040, less than five per cent of the population should be using tobacco. Today, the proportion of smokers in the EU is around 25 per cent. To achieve this goal, the EU is taking many steps to check tobacco consumption. An intensification of efforts – including regulatory measures – has often been announced, most recently by the European Commission on World No Tobacco Day. In particular, the developments and consumption of novel products are referred to in this context.

In addition to e-cigarettes, these are mainly so-called tobacco heaters, also called vaporisers, in which, instead of a combustion process, the tobacco is merely heated in an electric device, thus enabling inhalation. The use of these products, especially e-cigarettes and hookah tobacco, is increasing, especially among young people. Even if intensive research efforts still need to be undertaken, it can be stated that the consumption of e-cigarettes and the like represents a health hazard and harbours potential addiction. The World Health Organisation therefore considers e-cigarettes a health hazard and has called for strict regulation to discourage use, especially among young people.

Review of the current legal framework for tobacco control

The comprehensive EU legal framework for tobacco control includes the Tobacco Products Directive (Directive 2014/40/EU), the Tobacco Tax Directive (Directive 2011/64/EU), the Tobacco Advertising Directive (2003/33/EC), the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (Directive 2010/13/EU), the Council Recommendations on smoke-free environments of 2009 (2009/C 296/02) as well as other policy packages.

Various studies and evaluation reports show that novel tobacco and nicotine-containing products often "dodge regulations through the regulatory gaps". With the rapid growth of new products, technologies and markets, a review of existing legislation seems necessary. This is the only way to keep pace with these changes legislatively. The EU has many regulatory options such as introducing measures for product regulation, advertising, taxation, or adapting smoke-free environments.

Taxation and smoke-free environment

With regard to tax regulations, the European Commission is planning a revision of the Tobacco Tax Directive. This comprises the EU regulations for the taxation of tobacco products and sets minimum tax rates. There is a need for harmonisation here with regard to novel tobacco products, as up to now the EU Member States have applied different tax rates to novel products.

Among other things, an update of the European Council recommendations for a smoke-free environment has also been announced. The 2009 Council recommendation currently applies only to cigarettes and does not cover e-cigarettes or other products, such as hookahs. An expansion of smoke-free zones to outdoor areas will also be reviewed. The EU can make use of the still existing regulatory leeway in certain indoor areas, such as cars.

The German Social Insurance (DSV) supports the EU’s intention to further develop the legal framework to further reduce the use of tobacco. This forms an important prerequisite on the basis of which the behaviour-related prevention approaches of social insurance in Germany can only achieve full effectiveness. It is important to note that the revision of the regulatory framework is not only intended to reduce the attractiveness for minors and non-smokers, but also for adult smokers through targeted measures. The DSV feedback can be found here.