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0:00 - Intro with Joanna Junak
0:55 - Barnaby Page discusses a recent survey assessing THR knowledge amongst Members of the European Parliament (MEPs)
2:31 - MEPs signal shift in vaping views
6:38 - MEPs shy away from heavy regulation
9:28 - How do we communicate the science to MEPs?
14:43 - Closing remarks


Hello and welcome. I'm Joanna Junak and this is GFN News on GFN.TV. EU lawmakers are

becoming less aware and less confident on novel nicotine products. This is the latest

findings of a survey among members of the European Parliament issued by Tamarind Intelligence.

Why is this happening? Joining us today to discuss this issue is Barnaby Page, Editorial

Director at Tamarind Intelligence, which publishes Intelligence and Tobacco Intelligence. We

are proud to be welcoming Tobacco Intelligence as a media partner for GFN23. Don't forget

to register today at forward slash registration. Hello Barnaby, can you tell

us why Tamarind Intelligence run the survey? Right, well, to give you a little bit of background

on the survey of members of the European Parliament, this was the third time we've done it. So

we've been doing it annually for three years now, released in early March this year. And

this one covered not only e-cigarettes, but also nicotine pouches and heated tobacco.

The reason that we looked at members of the European Parliament specifically really is

twofold. Firstly, there are obviously some major regulatory initiatives coming up at

EU level, which would be quite significant for the novel nicotine sector. Those include

the third incarnation of the Tobacco Products Directive, and also, of course, a potential

directive on tobacco taxation. So there's going to be a direct impact potentially on

the sectors from what MEPs think and believe about novel nicotine products. Equally, though,

I think that polling MEPs is a way of seeing, if you like, the direction in which the wind

is blowing in terms of policy in general. And though we obviously can't directly translate

the opinions of European level politicians into individual countries, we can perhaps

make an informed guess that there's going to be some similarities in the way they're

thinking and the opinions they hold. So as well as giving us a fairly good insight into

the specific views held in Brussels at EU level, it also, I think, gives us a more general

insight into European politicians' opinions in general.

And what are the key findings of the survey?

Right, well, it's quite a long survey, and we've done a lot of analysis on it, you know,

looking at the different levels of knowledge, for example, of MEPs about different nicotine

products, subdividing things into product categories, as well as looking at their knowledge

of the whole sector, looking at their opinions on relative risk, for example, their views

on the level of regulation that is appropriate, and so on and so forth. But to break that

down into some of the key findings, OK, first of all, the good news for the sector is that

generally MEPs do not believe that novel nicotine products are as harmful as smoking. Only around

20% felt that. Now, some people will still think that 20% is an alarmingly high number.

But it leaves a large majority who accept, or a large majority of responses, accepting

that novel nicotine products are less risky, that reduced risk exists. So that's a headline

finding and an important one, a crucial one, in fact, I'd say, for the sector and for people

in public health advocating for reduced risk. Something that we found again this year and

have found throughout this survey, which I think is really significant, is that the level

of knowledge that MEPs have about these products is very, very much related to their perceptions

of riskiness. And although there are, you know, there are quite nuanced ways to interpret

that data, the bottom line is those who know more about the products are more likely to

consider them low risk. Again, that may come as little surprise to people within the sector

who are, you know, perhaps aware of the details of the products, and it may well be regarded

as good news. But it's an important thing, I think, to understand that, you know, that

knowledge is an absolutely crucial factor here in determining politicians' opinions.

An interesting development this year, however, is that those who didn't have knowledge seemed

more likely than before to acknowledge that and say they don't know, you know, they haven't

formed a strong opinion on risk or on regulatory imperatives or whatever. Why this is, is open

to question, perhaps. It's possible that people are simply aware that the whole field is becoming

even more politicised and controversial. And so they are perhaps a little afraid of just

expressing, if you like, a gut feeling or an opinion out of the blue. So there are more

don't knows than there were before. And I think that's both a challenge and an opportunity

for the reduced risk sector, to be honest. Just looking at a couple of other things that

came out of the findings. One is, and again, this will be good news, I think, for reduced

risk advocates. More responses felt that novel nicotine products were an off-ramp away from

smoking than an on-ramp into smoking. As you know, that's one of the big contentious political

issues. I would argue perhaps one of the bigger distractions from the reality in the reduced

risk debate. But generally, MEPs, or the ones who responded to our survey, of course, seem

to acknowledge that people are more likely to give up smoking than initiate smoking through

the use of these products. Then looking at individual product categories, I think the

last interesting point to make, let's say we covered e-cigarettes, heated tobacco and

nicotine pouches. In a sense, the strongest vote for reduced risk came for nicotine pouches.

That was the category where the fewest number considered the products to be as risky as

smoking. Though I would stress it was a small number for all three. There's no one category

where they are overwhelmingly feeling the risk is anywhere close to smoking. But nicotine

pouches were definitely those regarded as least innocuous, most innocuous, if you like.

You mentioned that the some MEPs have differing levels of knowledge regarding nicotine products

and their safety. What are some of your concerns about these findings?

Well, yeah, I think there are potential concerns. I mean, I think one would have to take a fairly

balanced middle ground here. You know, there's good news in the survey. The reduced risk

message is reaching a lot of MEPs. So that's good news for advocates of that approach.

I would say probably the overall picture it paints is one of an area where there is work

to be done rather than a disaster area. So, I mean, if you look at some of the positives,

generally MEPs are not in favor of heavier regulation. People support the idea of the

sector being regulated, of course, and indeed most in the sector support that. But for example,

there are very few arguing that novel nicotine should be more heavily regulated than tobacco,

than conventional combustible tobacco. There's a general acceptance that online sales should

be allowed with appropriate age verification, for example. So there are good things to look

at here. And as I say, you know, the perceptions of reduced risk are generally positive. However,

from the point of view of the reduced risk community, I think it has to be acknowledged

that by no means all politicians in Brussels have been convinced. It's a fairly small majority

who believe that novel nicotine products are actually less harmful than combustibles. I

think it was about 54% of responses in total. So still quite a long way to go there. And

also there is this issue, and I think, you know, this is perhaps a double edged sword.

It could be positive, it could also be negative, of more and more people saying they are unsure,

unsure about risks, unsure in general about these products. As I say, you know, partly

that may be a lack of confidence, perhaps, in opinions. Perhaps people are, you know,

now acknowledging that this is a complicated area, you know, where there are many things

happening simultaneously. There are kids starting to use disposable vapes at the same time as

there are adults using vapes to stop smoking. And, you know, it's not necessarily an easy

calculus. I think it's possible that it may also, as I say, express some nervousness about,

you know, what is now a very, very controversial area. So, yeah, there are, I don't think there

are any sort of disastrous concerns to take away. But I think advocates of reduced risk

need to see that there is a need probably for continued education and continued communication

with politicians at this level.

What steps, in your opinion, should be taken to provide EU lawmakers with a better level

of knowledge about nicotine products?

Well, I think that's an interesting question. Who should take them is perhaps the hardest

question to answer of all. You know, consumer organisations, vapers organisations, for example,

have been very active in this area. There is perhaps a limit to how, I wouldn't say

to how seriously they will be taken, but to how much weight they will carry, simply because

they are perceived to be single issue activist organisations. The greatest weight, perhaps,

you know, would come from broader based public health bodies. But then again, you know, they

clearly have their own concerns to follow and they are not, you know, solely laser focused

on reduced risk tobacco products, which those of us in the area can sometimes forget are

actually a fairly minor part of the whole public health picture.

So who should do the communication? Yes, I think that's difficult. I think, you know,

it's possibly an issue that there is not a single well established sector association

that would speak for everybody the way that there is in some much more long established

industries. But of course, this is a new area. And of course, it's also an area which, you

know, heavily involves the tobacco companies, which brings in all sorts of issues with the

FCTC, etc.

In terms of what to communicate, I think there is some interesting potential. You know, we

discuss harms and we discussed the fact that most MEPs, though it's a fairly small majority,

you know, do it certainly except that reduced risk products are no more risky than conventional

combustibles and a small majority except they are less. Personally, I would say that looking

at, if you like, the inherent physical harms to the individual user is not a very constructive

way to to address this audience, because it's a complicated area. It's an area in which,

you know, the science is what the science is very extensive. It's sometimes contradictory.

You know, there is there is no single kind of gold standard you can point to, as it were,

and say, you know, this product is clearly harmless because that clearly opens up a whole

range of questions about, you know, what do you mean by clearly, what do you mean by harmless,


So while, you know, I'm sure that that message, in fact, may well be correct, I don't know

that it's the easiest message to communicate. I think what is possibly a good route to take

is to look at nicotine itself. I think there's a fairly clear message that can be put forward,

you know, that would not find many people really disagreeing with it about nicotine

in itself being a relatively benign substance. Now, you know, we know that's been a subject

of confusion among policymakers in some countries and among consumers. But I think it's a fairly

it's a fairly well-defined question to address. The other one is looking at smoking behavior

or nicotine consumption behavior, if you like, and and this issue of, you know, the on-ramp

versus the off-ramp. Again, I think that's a fairly a fairly focused thing where people

can talk about the the role of new nicotine products in cessation and the the relative

absence of evidence for a gateway effect into combustibles. Yes, there is limited, limited

evidence of a very limited effect, but the numbers seem to be seem to be highly trivial.

I think also the other thing to look at here is, you know, who do you target if you want

to change policymakers' minds? And this is perhaps an issue which, you know, is relevant

to to all countries at individual national level and even at regional levels, not just

to Brussels. But if you look at our survey of MEPs, for example, about 20 percent of

those who had knowledge of the products still thought that they were as risky as conventional

tobacco products. Now, I would suggest perhaps counterintuitively, those are not the people

to target. They've made up their minds for whatever reasons, and it will probably be

a difficult job to persuade them otherwise. However, 40 percent of those who didn't have

any knowledge of the products were really not sure whether they were risky or not. And

I think I mentioned earlier, you know, there were a lot more don't knows in the survey

this year than there have been before. So I think the opportunity here for the for the

reduced risk world, whether that's public health or industry or consumers, the opportunity

is to go to those don't knows. And while it may be disappointing to some people that,

you know, that there's not more resounding positive support for these products, you know,

that that's a fairly a fairly narrow majority. There are still a lot of people who have not

made their minds up, it seems. And so, you know, people, people in the area may be hoping

they can help to make those minds up.

Thank you, Barnaby. That's all for today. Tune in next time here on GFN TV or on our

GFN TV podcast. And don't forget to book your place at GFN 23 to join in the discussion

yourself. Thanks for watching or listening. See you next time.