Revising the current Tobacco Excise Directive presents an opportunity to apply the right incentives for current smokers to improve their health; ideally by stopping the use of nicotine altogether, but also by switching to reduced risk alternatives where this is impossible or unlikely for the individual smoker.
The inception impact assessment rightly cites Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan as a driver of the current policy. Smoking is the leading cause of cancer in Europe and mass smoking cessation is the most effective policy tool to curb the disease. Some smokers can quit cold turkey; others are using nicotine replacement or other medications; but a significant majority struggle.
Focus on harm reduction for smokers
Vaping has been found to be significantly less carcinogenic than smoking and an acceptable replacement for cigarettes for many smokers. It follows that any policy designed to reduce cancer rates through prevention must focus on the needs of this particularly at-risk section of the population.
The harm reduction potential of vaping, in light of this scientific advice, can be enhanced or diminished by fiscal incentives across the nicotine category; we already see this with the decision of many countries to reduce Value-Added Tax on nicotine replacement therapies. The critical pathway to enhancing the benefits of tobacco harm reduction will thus be to ensure that any excise levied on any nicotine products is reflective of the harm that it causes to individual and public health. Any system should also ensure that commercial actors in the space are able to operate on a stable and sustainable footing.