MEPs urged to make cancer report "as accurate as possible"

MEPs and health experts have joined forces in urging the European Parliament’s Special Committee on Beating Cancer (BECA) to ensure its final report “is as accurate as possible.”

The demand came at a meeting in the European Parliament which debated cancer-related lifestyle risk factors.Several participants said it was important that the BECA’s report includes “the right things on vaping.”

They included Italian MEP Pietro Fiocchi who, when asked about the position of experts on vaping, said that scientific studies had showed a “much lower incidence of lung cancer” among vapers.

In addition to giving his support to vaping in the European Parliament report, Fiocchi highlighted the importance of making sure that BECA had sufficient scientific data on vaping to ensure that the report “is as accurate as possible.”

His comments were welcomed by World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) Director, Michael Landl who said, “We are really encouraged by MEP Fiocchi’s commitment to including vaping in the Parliament’s report on cancer. MEPs have the chance to prevent thousands of cancer cases across the EU by helping smokers make the switch to vaping so now It’s key that Fiocchi’s colleagues follow his lead and show their support for vaping.”

Other participants in the committee meeting included Dr Ute Mons, professor of cardiovascular epidemiology ageing at the Heart Centre in Cologne who pointed out that cigarettes are the “most dangerous consumer product” on the EU market.

She said that in 2018, there were 760,000 cancer cases attributable to tobacco, accounting for one fifth of all cancer cases, and this showed that the EU must promote tobacco control mechanisms and strengthen the Tobacco Product Directive (TPD) and tobacco taxation.

Proposals she recommends include making plain packaging compulsory, offering more help to quit smoking and banning advertising.

At the meeting, “Facilitating a healthier lifestyle: how to reduce cancer related lifestyle risk factors,”, Dr Mons pointed out that in most EU countries plain packaging for tobacco products had not been implemented but referenced the UK where it had positive effects in tackling tobacco consumption.

The UK, he said, also has the highest number of vapers which may have also contributed to the lower tobacco incidence rate.

Alongside her views on tobacco control, she has appeared relatively open to vaping as part of the solution, “Making a complete switch to e-cigarettes is a means of harm reduction for tobacco smokers who can’t or won’t give up smoking.There is an urgent need to supplement the existing prevention and regulatory initiatives with the apparatus of tobacco harm reduction.”

Current risk assessment, she noted, deems e-cigarettes and tobacco heaters to be considerably less harmful than continuing to smoke.

She has supported studies citing the replacement of cigarette bycigarette by e-cigarette use over a 10-year period yields 6.6 million fewer premature deaths with 86.7 million fewer life years lost.

Mons conceded, “There are concerns that e-cigarettes could represent a ‘gateway’ into a life of smoking for young people and non-smokers alike. This concern must be addressed by continued observation of the market. Fortunately, however, current figures from Germany show no indications of such an effect.”

She believes smokers should themselves choose between the product types suitable for reducing the risks associated with smoking, be theye-cigarettes, tobacco heaters or tobacco-free nicotine products. Ideally, they should be able to switch to them completely as quickly as possible.”

Another speaker, Dr Nataliya Chilingirova, associate professor in oncology at the Medical University Pleven in Bulgaria, said, differences with cigarettes and novel products need to be made clear with new regulations.

Such products “substantially increase life expectancy and levels of exposure to carcinogens in these novel products are significantly lower than those of cigarette smoke. These new product are not harmless but it is a good option for smokers.”

Czech GUE MEP Kateřina Konečná said, "Vulnerable groups will always use these toxic substances regardless of any ban. What about the concept of risk reduction? Is the complete ban on the use of tobacco or alcohol the right option to consider?" Another participant, German EPP Peter Liese, a medical doctor, said: "Do you not think that we need to be a bit more open on e-cigarettes? The WHO said there is no scenario that e-cigarettes are more dangerous than tobacco. We need to make sure that e-cigarettes are not more difficult to access than traditional cigarettes.

Another MEP, Tomislav Sokol, from Croatia, wondered if additional EU funded research on vaping and e-cigarettes is needed as the Commission is sceptical of harm reduction possibilities.

MEPs Veronique Trillet Lenoir and Sara Cerdas questioned whether further evidence and investigations were needed into e-cigarettes to determine the best course of action.

The WVA, a pro-vaping advocacy group based in Brussels, has launched a campaign calling on the EU institutions to endorse vaping in the EU Cancer Plan in order to help Europe overcome smoking-induced cancers. The campaign revolves around 3 key points: vaping is not smoking, it is less harmful than smoking and has the potential to help beat the scourge of cancer.

Cancer is, after heart disease, the biggest killer in Europe (this despite the ongoing ravages of the coronavirus pandemic), claiming tens of thousands of lives every year.

The Alliance believes that if the European institutions take note of its proposals in what is a landmark health initiative for Europe, then Europe stands a real chance of eliminating smoking-induced cancers far more quickly.

Commenting further Michael Landl highlighted the encouraging data that is available saying: “We should be led by science and not by opinion on this issue. Major health authorities will tell you, the science is clear: vaping is a less harmful alternative for smokers and an effective cessation tool.

“The committee needs to take note of the ever-growing level of research that backs vaping. The United Kingdom and France are already encouraging smokers to switch to vaping on the basis of scientific evidence. The EU must follow the lead of these countries.”

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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