Electronic cigarettes have a place in EU cancer plan, but we must remain vigilant – EURACTIV.com


Electronic cigarettes “undoubtedly” reduce the risks compared to traditional cigarettes and have a place in the EU’s cancer plan. However, these products should not benefit from “lighter” regulations and Europe should treat them with the same vigilance as tobacco products, MEP Michèle Rivasi told EURACTIV in an interview.

“I see no reason why the electronic cigarette and its products should benefit from tax reductions or exemptions,” she said.

Michèle Rivasi is a French Member of the EU from the Group of the Greens / European Free Alliance (Europe Ecology) of the European Parliament.


  • Electronic cigarettes should be treated with the same level of vigilance as tobacco products
  • No tax exemption for electronic cigarettes
  • Sales to minors should be banned
  • Need for better regulation of sales and advertising

How do you think electronic cigarettes should be treated in EU law? Should they be treated like other traditional tobacco / smoking products?

I will say “yes, but…”. The electronic cigarette is a product that must be treated with the same level of vigilance as tobacco products, while being adapted to its specificities. This is the difficulty of this range of products which appeared about fifteen years ago. For us, the Greens, if the use of electronic cigarettes is claimed as an alternative to tobacco, as a substitute product or as a means of reducing the ravages associated with conventional cigarettes – which kill half of the people who use them and who smoke them. are responsible in Europe for a quarter of cancer deaths, let us remember! – we must consider the electronic cigarette as a medical device, in the same way that the gum or the patches are pharmaceutical products.

Another key aspect is the flavors and refills. The 2019 health scare in the United States, which affected more than 2,800 people and caused 68 deaths, was the result of the illicit trafficking of cartridges. Here again, we, the Greens, are particularly attentive to this risk and advocate binding rules. Nothing, or unfortunately very little, is known about the effects of chemical additives used in e-cigarette liquids, their combustion residues and their combined effects, including over the long term. The industry itself recognizes its ignorance and wants to know more about the real impact of its products.

Just because e-cigarettes appear to be less toxic than conventional tobacco products, doesn’t mean they should benefit from “lighter” regulation.

There are studies showing that they are less harmful than traditional smoking. Could this be a way for heavy smokers to quit traditional smoking?

Several studies and many tobacco experts observe that switching to electronic cigarettes allows for easier withdrawal from traditional tobacco. There would therefore be less tobacco consumption, but not necessarily a cessation of smoking. Likewise, other figures show that only one in six young people who try electronic cigarettes become a smoker, compared to one in two who try a conventional cigarette. At the same time, one can cite a study from the Journal of the American Medical Association published in 2018 which found that non-smoking adolescents who use e-cigarettes are two to three times more likely to start smoking tobacco than those who have never tried one.

We are therefore faced with a product, or a use, which is both an aid in reducing tobacco consumption by smokers while proving to be a gateway to smoking.

These apparent contradictions explain the WHO statements claiming that electronic cigarettes are “unquestionably harmful” and the fact that electronic cigarettes are an integral part of the tobacco universe.

The massive investments made by the tobacco giants in this new sector illustrate this continuity. Besides, let’s face it, experts are still divided on whether it is a risky consumption or a population at risk, who would have tried tobacco anyway. Both sides exist, let’s face it.

Should electronic cigarettes be taxed less than traditional tobacco products?

No. I see no reason why the electronic cigarette and its products should benefit from tax reductions or exemptions.

What do you expect from the Commission’s TPD implementation report next month?

We already know the gaps in the legislation on heated tobacco and electronic cigarettes. We need better regulation of sales and advertising, a thorough analysis of additives and their cocktail effect, a ban on flavors and mandatory health warnings to alert non-smokers to the risks , as is the case with traditional cigarettes. Sales to minors should also be prohibited. The overview of tobacco and vaping products sold in France, published in October 2020 following the health crisis in the United States, noted the inconsistencies and non-conformities in the declarations of the manufacturers. We will see whether the Commission, whose proximity to the tobacco industry has been emphasized over the past few years, addresses these points in its report.

Is there a place for electronic cigarettes in the European plan to fight cancer?

Judging by the press and the positions taken by representatives of the electronic cigarette lobby, this seems to be the case! Given the responsibility of tobacco in the development of cancer, one of the first challenges in preventing cancer is to reduce smoking. Electronic cigarettes therefore have their place in the European plan to fight cancer. The electronic cigarette is undoubtedly a product that can reduce risk, but it is not the panacea that its followers – and the companies behind them – would have us believe. Let us remain vigilant!

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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