What is interest representation
According to Wikipedia, The European Commission defined interest representation as: "all activities carried out with the objective of influencing the policy formulation and decision-making processes of the European institutions".
The main actors in European interest representation are national, European, and international associations from all sectors of economic and social life, private enterprise, law firms, political consultants, non-governmental organizations and think tanks.
Interest representation (or Lobbying) was designed to be an essential part of the democratic process with the aim of providing legislators and regulators with the different perspectives from all stakeholders of an issue. It’s these different perspectives that allow open discussion to happen and are therefore, key to create impartial and proportionate laws.
Or so it should be in theory, …
Lobbying can only be a tool of democracy if equal opportunities are granted to all parties involved in the activity. Which is currently not the case when it comes to tobacco product regulation.
How EU funding eliminated real debate on TPD regulation
Forest, an independent organization defending tobacco product consumers’ concerns started their Forest EU campaign in May 2017 to prevent further restrictions on the tobacco products and to highlight the increasingly intrusive role of regulators in the lives of private individuals.
They recently published a report on the EU funding of anti-tobacco lobby groups in Brussels. In the report, they established two main facts. Firstly, that there exists an extensive, well-funded network of anti-tobacco lobby groups constantly pushing for a stronger regulatory environment for both traditional tobacco and novel vaping products.
Secondly, they established that the lobbying activities of many of these organizations are funded with resources from European tax payers by the European Commission. These subsidies make up the lion’s share of their budget, making it almost impossible for them to exist without it.
The report identified twenty-four different organizations operating in Brussels that are pushing for more pervasive anti-tobacco policies with a combined annual budget of €1.1 billion in 2016 alone, almost half of which, coming straight from the European Commission.
Within those 24 associations, there are four key organizations getting more than six out of every ten of their euros from the European commission with the sole focus of achieving more invasive anti-tobacco policies. They are marked by a uniform worldview with regards to public health policies, shared priorities and policy recommendations.
So why are four organizations being funded to lobby for the same policy objectives whereas, at the same time, almost no money is directed at those promoting an alternative point of view? To create a false debate in which one side is artificially given the stage to the exclusion of all other interested parties, all at the taxpayers’ expense.
These false debates, on whatever issue, directly threaten both our democracy and the integrity of our civil society and should not be accepted.
Why EU funding puts the future of vaping at stake
The uniform worldview on policy of many of these anti-smoking interest representation groups comes from their common goal to properly implement the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) treaty.
The FCTC is a supranational agreement that seeks "to protect present and future generations from the devastating consequences of tobacco consumption”.
Among other things, it includes rules that govern the tobacco industry. These rules are considered minimum requirements and signatories are often more stringent in regulating tobacco than the treaty requires them to be, which is a great way to say goodbye to a toxic product that kills 7 million people worldwide, every year.
In 2014, however, following the October Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a report on Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) was published.
Under the report’s subject: Impact on existing tobacco-control efforts, they took the following position:
“23. Although ENDS present a range of potential benefits to smokers, there is an extensive and often heated debate about whether ENDS will prove to have a positive or negative impact on population health and particularly tobacco control. Areas of legitimate concern include avoiding nicotine initiation among non-smokers and particularly youth while maximizing potential benefits for smokers. Such concerns are referred to as the gateway and renormalization effects.”
Although there has been no evidence of these gateway effects nor the possible negative effects of ‘renomalization’ they legitimize this as a concern but a little ways down the report the following paragraph is written:
“(d) The limited existing survey data from a handful of countries show that experimentation
with ENDS is increasing rapidly among adolescents and that in itself is of great concern even if most of the young ENDS users also smoke. In fact, except in one case, the surveys show that there are few exclusive ENDS users who have never smoked (mostly around 1% of the
population). These data do not allow the conclusions to be drawn as to whether this is a sign of adolescent smokers switching to ENDS, an established pattern of dual use, or a temporary experimentation fashion. Therefore, in the absence of longitudinal data, existing evidence does not allow an affirmation or rejection of the role of ENDS in increasing nicotine addiction among adolescents above existing uptake rates, much less as to whether ENDS lead to smoking in these countries. Among adults the pattern of dual use seems also the predominant one, resulting in a reduction of smoked cigarettes and with few never smokers starting to use ENDS (below 1% of the population).”
So even in their own studies they cannot find data that factually back their ‘concern’.
Furthermore, in 2018 a study came out examining the value of the gateway theory. It confirms the findings of WHO above with the discovery that smoking usually precedes vaping as well as the fact that smoking prevalence observed in adolescents decreases in countries where vaping is increasing. Thus, effectively debunking the gateway theory.
This is only one example of the many studies that came out in the past five years contradicting the position towards e-cigarettes of the World Health Organization. Like the now widely accepted fact that ENDS are 95% less harmful then cigarettes while WHO insists that because we don’t know the long term health effects, it’s better to treat them as dangerous.
It’s because of this ‘guilty until proven innocent’ position, wielded in the WHO’s FCTC and by extension, through the funding of groups advocating for its implementation, the EU that the full potential of e-cigarettes for bettering the lives of 1 billion smokers today, is not being explored right now. In reality our policymakers do quite the opposite, continuously introducing extra requirements for and new limitations on our vaping products.
As these policies the EU system brings forth, hit and will continue to hit, smaller companies in the vaping industry first, it kills ENDS innovation and finally, puts any current and future potential e-cigarettes hold for a smoke free world, on the line.