Tobacco Harm Reduction and the EU Elections: A Critical Public Health Issue

As the EU elections begin, we want leaders who pay attention to Tobacco Harm Reduction. But what does that mean? Let’s find out together.

In a year marked with elections worldwide, June 2024 sees the onset of the 4-day EU elections. With 720 parliamentary members to be elected across 27 member states by around 370 million Europeans, this is an election marked with potential and promises. In fact, in the lead-up to the elections, many parties have shared many different promises on smoking, tobacco control and harm reduction. Tobacco use remains one of the leading causes of preventable diseases and deaths across Europe, making it imperative for candidates and policymakers to address how they plan to combat this ongoing crisis.

Why is it important for parties to focus on harm reduction?

Despite decades of tobacco control measures, smoking rates in many EU countries remain alarmingly high. Tobacco use is responsible for nearly 700,000 deaths annually within the EU and traditional tobacco control strategies, such as taxation, advertising bans, and public smoking restrictions, have not been sufficient to curb smoking prevalence significantly.

Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR) is an approach that aims to minimise the health risks associated with tobacco use by encouraging smokers to switch to less harmful alternatives. These alternatives include electronic cigarettes (vapes), heated tobacco products, nicotine pouches, and snus. Unlike combustible cigarettes, these products do not involve the burning of tobacco, which is the primary source of harmful toxins and carcinogens.

What are some aspects of harm reduction that EU leadership can invest in?

1. Include THR in Tobacco Control Policies: It is time for the EU to officially embrace THR as a tool for, not a target of, tobacco control.

2. Promote Risk-Proportionate Regulations: This includes recognising the risk continuum and embracing reduced-risk products to help smokers quit.

3. Encourage Public Education and Awareness: Widespread misconceptions surrounding THR products, such as e-cigarettes, continue to gain traction. It falls on our leaders to support education campaigns on the reduced-risk benefits and the proven successes of these alternative products.

4. Support Innovation and Research: As a science-backed organisation, we value and strive to showcase the latest research. Investing in this sphere can help reduce risk even further and significantly change the EU’s public health landscape when it comes to smoking.

The upcoming EU elections present a crucial opportunity for voters to elect representatives who are committed to advancing public health through progressive tobacco control policies. By embracing THR, the EU can lead the world in a progressive approach to tobacco control – perhaps even achieving its smoke-free goal before the next elections come to pass.

It's time for policymakers to recognise the potential of THR and commit to a future where fewer lives are lost to tobacco.

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