Could you introduce the European vaping association (IEVA) to our readers?
> The Independent European Vape Alliance (IEVA) was founded in 2019. Our aim is to bring together national associations, companies, manufacturers and wholesalers in the European vaping industry and provide them with responsible representation. So far, eight national associations and 13 international large companies are among our members. IEVA promotes the debate on the differentiation between vaping and smoking, and advocates tough yet proportionate regulation of the sector which promotes harm reduction and is well suited to the category.
What actions has IEVA taken so far?
> We are lucky to have such experienced members from across Europe. Many have been in the industry for years and form national associations that are experienced in local politics and respected by decision makers. Thanks to them, IEVA has made great progress in the short time we have been in existence. We have met a number of MEPs to discuss excise taxes, product regulation via the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), harm reduction, the importance of non-traditional flavors, and how to maximise the public health potential of this unique category.
In the past year, in addition to talking to legislators from across the political spectrum, we have arranged information seminars and webinars covering the Excise and Tobacco Directives, which are currently under review by the EU institutions. We co-hosted the Harm Reduction Summit in Bucharest and published IEVA policy papers on product regulation, taxation, the debate on electronic cigarettes and youth, non-smokers protection and guidelines for responsible marketing.
What is the association’s goal?
> Our central goal is to communicate the science of vaping and harm reduction to political decision-makers. The major challenge we and our colleagues around the world face is the prevailing (and incorrect) view that vaping is just as dangerous as smoking. In European legislation, a distinction must be made between smoking and vaping taking account of the clear scientific evidence on the relative risks between the two product categories.
A good example of this is in the policy of taxation. Vaping should always be cheaper than smoking, so smokers are encouraged to try the less dangerous option. Likewise, vaping must maintain a sensory advantage over smoking. In practice, this means making sure a wide range of flavors are available subject to rigorous testing and manufacturing controls. In short, we want to make sure that retailers in Europe can sell vaping products that really help smokers and vapers make better choices and improve the state of their health.
What is your opinion about the tobacco industry’s efforts to infiltrate the vaping industry?
The vaping sector in Europe was built from the ground up small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) dynamically responding to demand among smokers for radical change in the options available to them. While opponents of the category claim that it is somehow an invention of the tobacco industry, this is plainly not the case. The vaping industry is still driven by those SMEs today, and most vapers in Europe don’t use the closed-system products that the tobacco industry produces. This was confirmed by the most recent Eurobarometer survey, an official EU survey instrument, to look at smoking and vaping. More than two thirds of vapers use open systems favoured by the independent sector.
Do you think that tobacco companies could help fight tobacco consumption, with their vaping products?
> Our association is clear about the need to be distinct from the major tobacco companies, we speak only for the public health opportunity represented by vaping. This is critical to the work we do in Brussels and the credibility of our voice. It is for decision makers to judge how this affects our motives and principles.
That said, we of course welcome any moves by the tobacco industry to decouple their business model from smoking and fully embrace harm reduction. But we must be realistic; these companies still make a lot of money selling tobacco and are unlikely to significantly reduce their dependence on these revenues any time soon.
What do you think about the fact that some tobacco shops sell vaping products, where e-cigs can be found right next to regular cigarettes? Do you find this acceptable? Or are you of the opinion that vaping products should only be sold in vape shops?
> It’s a great thing that smokers can learn about reduced risk products from the most obvious source of information: the place where they buy cigarettes. In public health terms, that’s a big win as it expands the category’s reach to smokers who cannot quit or do not want to.
Often, though, specialized vape shops offer a broader range of products and significantly more guidance to smokers looking to make a switch. That’s a lot of added public health value for the smoker. Experience shows us that smokers who have become curious about vaping are more likely to go to specialty stores, get advice, test products and make purchasing decisions there.
What are your predictions for the future of vaping in Europe? And in the USA?
> We are optimistic that the e-cigarette can develop very well worldwide in the next few years. No other product offers the multitude of arguments in favor of the switch. A harm reduction of 95 percent and a lower cancer risk of 99.5 percent are huge advantages over smoking. There is also an enormous variety of flavors. The flavors are an important reason for many smokers to switch to the e-cigarette and then stick to vaping. This also applies to the lower total costs compared to smoking. These advantages must be preserved in the regulation of the product. Then the e-cigarette can offer an alternative to millions of smokers who are still unsettled. A prerequisite for this, however, is the education of the population about the advantages of vaping over smoking. Too many people still assume that the e-cigarette is just as harmful as the tobacco cigarette. Politicians have the responsibility and the ability to educate the population about the actual scientific facts, and thereby achieve a huge improvement in public health.
What are your hopes for 2021?
> 2021 will be a pivotal year for the future of the vaping sector in Europe. At an EU level, we will learn a lot about the direction of excise taxes in Europe and future revisions of the Tobacco Products Directive.
And on top of all of that, the World Health Organization will convene the Conference of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). This will take place in the Netherlands in November. The resolutions on vaping agreed at this conference will provide an important impetus for improving public health by reducing smoking and tobacco consumption.
However, this will not succeed without widespread recognition of the topic of harm reduction, as the Convention itself says should happen.
We call on the WHO to recognize this potential and not to hinder information on e-cigarettes. The evaluation of vaping must be based on scientific facts. These are clearly on the side of the e-cigarette and it is the responsibility of health policy and thus also of the WHO to make these facts known to the population.
By the end of 2021, a lot more people should be able to separate myths from facts when it comes to tobacco harm reduction; our most important task is to explain this clearly.