Event hosted by European Parliament promotes harm reduction narrative of tobacco industry - Smoke Free Partnership
Friday, 26 May 2023
The Smoke Free Partnership (SFP), a coalition of more than 50 NGOs working in tobacco control, expresses concern over the event “Recipe for a Smoke-Free Europe: Learnings from the Swedish Experience” that will be hosted in the European Parliament on 31 May, which is the World No Tobacco Day. The focus of the event is the use of alternative nicotine products in Sweden.
SFP urges the European Parliament to not host any events that could be linked to an industry that is responsible for 700,000 deaths within the EU annually.
Two speakers at the event, MEPs Sara Skyttedal and Johan Nissinen, might have close contact with the tobacco industry. MEP Skyttedal has met with Japan Tobacco International (JTI) and European Cigar Manufacturers Association this year, whereas MEP Nissinen had 7 meetings over the last 7 months with British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International, Nordic Nicotine Pouches Alliance, Vaper’s Alliance and Svenska snustillverkarföreningen. They have also taken action favorable to the tobacco industry in their role as MEPs. Skyttedal has, over the past year, asked five parliamentary questions to the Commission that promoted the industry’s ‘harm reduction’ narrative. Nissen openly questions the European snus ban both in Parliament and in the media. In an interview with Euractiv, the Swedish politician urged against EU regulation of the advertisement of alternative nicotine products, while promoting nicotine pouches and snus as harm reducing alternatives.
The third speaker, MEP Tomislav Sokol, hosted an event “Shedding light on the shadow of illicit trade” in the European Parliament organized in partnership with Japan Tobacco International in 2022. Tomislav Sokol spoke alongside Anthony Helmsley, External Engagement Director at JTI. In 2020, MEP Sokol participated in an online debate “Lifestyle choices and beating Cancer” which promoted Swedish snus, a tobacco product banned in the rest of the EU, as a cancer prevention tool.
This ‘harm reduction’ narrative is a widely used trope by the tobacco industry to promote novel tobacco and nicotine products. It allows the industry to insert itself in the tobacco control debate under the guise of aiding public health policies, and lobby for looser regulation on novel products.
The impartiality of both the co-organizer of the event, We Are Innovation network, and the MEP speakers with regards to the tobacco industry is dubious, and should be cause for concern. In light of these potential conflicts of interests, SFP calls upon the European Parliament to comply with The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC), which has been ratified by the EU and its 27 Member States. Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC obliges parties to protect public health policies on tobacco control, from the vested interests of the tobacco industry.
Now that the review of major policy files is either ongoing or forthcoming (Tobacco Tax Directive, Tobacco Products Directive, Tobacco Advertising Directive, Council Recommendation on smoke-free environments), the tobacco industry’s attempts to gain access to and influence policymakers have intensified. Moreover, a delay of the presentation of the Tobacco Tax Directive proposal is a clear sign of the tobacco industry interference.