Wednesday 5 September 2018

The EU throws vapers under the bus again

The WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is holding its biennial conference in Geneva next month. It is the eighth 'Conference of the Parties', hence it is known as COP8.

In preparation for the event, various documents have been circling the global anti-smoking community to get a consensus on what to ban next. The depiction of tobacco use in the arts is one candidate. You can read the WHO's proposal here. The most notable part of the document is the WHO's intention to include tobacco use on film and television as tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (TAPS) because:

Entertainment media content such as movies, music videos, online videos, television programmes, streaming services, social media posts, video games and mobile phone applications have all been shown to depict and promote tobacco use and tobacco products in ways that may encourage youth smoking uptake... Therefore, policies that reduce youth exposure to entertainment media depictions are required.

What policies are needed to achieve this desired level of censorship? The WHO suggests the following...

Parties are urged to develop legislation or administrative measures to reduce tobacco depictions in entrainment [sic] media such as requiring tobacco industry disclosure of all expenditures associated with TAPS [tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship], requiring health and content warnings on material that depicts tobacco, banning tobacco branding from all entertainment media, requiring that any tobacco products shown must include required health warnings and other regulatory requirements relating to packaging (such as plain packaging), and requiring age ratings on entertainment media including music videos and video games. Further, Parties are urged to prohibit tax concessions and subsidies for films that include tobacco promotions.

The EU is one of the FCTC's members and, due to its size, it is rather influential. So have they objected to this? Yes, they have. But not because the proposals are too extreme. They object because they don't go far enough. In particular, the EU wants vaping to be included. In a document from the EU to the FCTC dated 30th August that was leaked to me this morning, the EU says (emphasis in the original):

The EU welcomes the report of the Expert Group on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship and supports its recommendations... [The EU] stresses that TAPS [tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship] regulatory frameworks and their implementation at national, regional and international levels do not only cover all tobacco products, both traditional and emerging ones such as heated products, but should also consider tobacco-related products such as ENDS.

ENDS are electronic nicotine delivery systems: e-cigarettes. The EU's position - which it will be voicing in Geneva next month - is that there should not only be a worldwide ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of tobacco products, but that there should be a worldwide ban on advertising, promotion and sponsorship of e-cigarettes. Furthermore, it wants the proposed restrictions on people smoking in movies, music videos, reality TV programmes, etc. to apply to people who are vaping. For example, a film which shows someone using an e-cigarette would automatically get an 18 certificate.

Has the UK gone along with this? If it has - and surely it must have done - how is it consistent with the government's pro-vaping Tobacco Control Plan or Public Health England's harm reduction agenda?

And if this is the EU's position on the 'advertising, promotion and sponsorship' of e-cigarettes, how bad is its position on the other regulatory issues going to be?

Once again, the EU and the Department of Health have shown that they cannot be trusted to represent consumers. It looks like we'll have to represent ourselves. I'll be going to Geneva next month. Who's with me?

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