How should smoke-free nicotine products be regulated at EU level in the future?
The European Commission is asking this question in an open consultation where citizens can answer questions about current EU legislation. But now the Nordic region's largest retailer of smoke-free nicotine products is raging against what it sees as propaganda from the European Commission.
"These are biased issues to push for tougher legislation." Says Markus Lindblad, Head of Communications at Haypp group to Vejpkollen.
The EU Tobacco Directive will be revised in the coming years. Ahead of the negotiations, the European Commission has opened a so-called public consultation. It allows EU citizens to answer questions about the current Tobacco Products Directive (TPD2).
The purpose of the survey is to make the political process more transparent. At the same time, individuals and companies are supposed to make their voices heard. But this is only on the surface, says Markus Lindblad, Head of Communications at Haypp group. Haypp group operates Snusbolaget, the largest online shop for smoke-free nicotine products in the Nordic region.
"We wanted to encourage our customers to make their voices heard. But when we sat down to answer the questions in the survey, it became very clear that this is not an ordinary survey," says Mr Perez. Markus Lindblad to Vejpkollen.
According to Markus Lindblad the questions and response options are designed to confirm the Commission's views.
"It will be pure political propaganda to push through tougher legislation," says Mr Snyder. Markus Lindblad.
Already heavy restrictions
The survey focuses largely on so-called "emerging products", i.e. e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches and heat-not-burn products. E-cigarettes are already regulated by the European Union's Consumer Protection Programme. current Directive (TPD2). This means severe restrictions on nicotine levels, size of liquid containers and significant barriers to active marketing. The EU also requires every product in the category to carry a nicotine warning on the packaging, which has recently been adopted by the European Commission. criticised in British studies.
Nicotine pouches and e-cigs in focus
However, nicotine pouches are not regulated under the TPD. Many therefore expect these products to be regulated after the revision of the Directive. In addition, the issue of flavour bans for both e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches is also speculated, as reflected in the survey.
"The questions regarding new nicotine products are far from neutral. They simply state that new nicotine products are "a threat to public health" and then ask HOW the regulation will counteract the "threat", not IF it is even perceived as a threat or if the current legislation is working well. Inventing 'a threat' in this way and stating it as an undeniable fact is a clear sign of propaganda", says Mr Perez. Markus Lindblad.
But might it not be valuable for consumers and users to respond to the survey, even if it is biased?
"I would say that it is almost impossible to respond without being misinterpreted in any way. The form does not give citizens a fair chance to express their views. It feels very rigged with a clear bias," says Mr Perez. Markus Lindblad.
Reported the whole survey
Markus Lindblad and the Haypp group are instead urging individuals and companies to report the open consultation as political propaganda, characterised by a clear agenda against harm-minimising nicotine products.
"It is actually quite easy to report if you are logged in to the site. We hope that as many people as possible do so and that it leads to change. We want the issue to be taken up in Parliament and to be thoroughly analysed. Because this is not ok", says Markus Lindblad to Vejpkollen.
Tips for users
Haypp Group has submitted a complaint to the EUS support channel, which anyone can do. Markus Lindblad also encourages users and consumers of smokeless nicotine products to visit the site. PouchPatrol for tips on how to notify.
"We also encourage anyone who wants to to use our notification as a starting point, everyone is free to be inspired or to copy it" says Markus Lindblad.
Vejpkollen has received the full notification from Haypp group (the snus company) (see below):
To avoid misunderstandings and discussions regarding definitions. Propaganda is the systematic effort to manipulate other people's beliefs, attitudes, or actions by means of symbols (e.g., words). Emphasis on manipulation distinguish propaganda from casual conversation or the free and easy exchange of ideas. Propagandists have a specified goal or a set of goals. To achieve these, they select facts, arguments, and displays of symbols and present them in ways they think will have the most effect.
Considering the definition above, we believe that 'Political propaganda' accurately describes the questionnaire.
These questions, in particular, lack neutrality, give the participant an impression of the designers' view on these matters, and express underlying premises that may manipulate people's beliefs, attitudes, or actions:
- "Considering the TPD, please rate each of the below product categories according to the level of threat they pose to the public health, particularly among young people."
- "How severe do you perceive the fragmentation of national and EU regulations on tobacco control?"
The lack of neutrality poses an imminent risk of influencing the participants and their answers. Lack of objectivity includes the choice of words and assumptions reflected in how the questions are asked.
For example, the underlying premise of this question is that these products, in fact, are a threat to public health: "Considering the TPD, please rate each of the below product categories according to the level of threat they pose to the public health, particularly among young people".
In this context and without nuance, it cannot be ignored that it may be perceived or interpreted as a factual statement, influencing the answers to confirm the European Commission's pre-existing views on this matter. There are neutral ways to ask the same question.
The underlying premise of this question is that there, in fact, is a severe fragmentation: How severe do you perceive the fragmentation of national and EU regulations on tobacco control?
These examples are only two of many questions that carry the same characteristics.
Furthermore, some questions are particularly unbalanced. The form is not adapted to the wide range of products in the tobacco and nicotine field. The following question - especially in its context - gives the impression that tobacco-free products containing nicotine may be banned to achieve a tobacco-free generation or that there will be no market for these products: "Given the policy objective of achieving a 'tobacco-free generation' by 2040 in the European Union, do you feel that your organisation is prepared for a smooth exit from the market (e.g., strategic plans to transition to a different sector)?". This sends an undue political signal to market players active in the market for alternative nicotine products. It cannot be excluded that market participants will react to this signal in one way or another. In this way, the European Commission has chosen to present a potential future reality to achieve a desired effect, even though there is very much an ongoing political discussion on these issues.
It is possible to argue and influence people without a single argument. Unfortunately, the questionnaire is a brilliant example of how this could be done.