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May, 2015:

Assessment of the European Union’s illicit trade agreements

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Mr Othmar Karas: Your participation in the Eurasia Tax Forum

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Even Nicotine-Free E-Cig Vapor Damages Lung Cells

by Janet Fang

In the last couple of years, electronic cigarette use has exceeded that of traditional cigarettes among teenagers. And now, a new study shows how e-cigs aren’t necessarily great for lung health either: not only is nicotine damaging for the lungs in any form, but even exposure to vapor from e-cigs that don’t contain nicotine may have deleterious effects.

E-cig use among middle and high school students tripled between 2013 and 2014, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That’s two million high school students and nearly half a million middle school students across the country. “In today’s rapidly evolving tobacco marketplace, the surge in youth use of novel products like e-cigarettes forces us to confront the reality that the progress we have made in reducing youth cigarette smoking rates is being threatened,” the FDA’s Mitch Zeller said in a statement last month.

Cigarette smoke causes the breakdown of lung endothelial cells – the ones that make up the lining of the paired organ – which can lead to various lung injuries and inflammation. The addictive chemical nicotine is just one of hundreds of components in cigarette smoke and researchers are still trying to figure out which of these are causing the injurious loss of lung cell integrity.

Indiana University’s Kelly Schweitzer and colleagues wanted to see if nicotine alone is enough to alter the cellular matrix that supports the shape and function of lung cells. They exposed mice, as well as cells from mice and humans, to cigarette smoke extract and to two kinds of e-cig solution: one containing nicotine, the other being nicotine-free. Nicotine’s harmful effects depend on the dose, they found, and result in loss of lung endothelial barrier function, acute lung inflammation and decreased lung endothelial cell proliferation. The team observed these effects in cigarette smoke and in e-cig solutions containing nicotine.

Importantly, the nicotine-free e-cig solutions also contained substances that harmed lung cells. For instance, acrolein targets molecules that hold the lung endothelial cells together.

“The increased use of inhaled nicotine via e-cigarettes, especially among the youth, prompts increased research into the effects on health. This research reports that components found in commercially available e-cigarette solutions and vapors generated by heating them may cause lung inflammation,” study co-author Irina Petrache of IU says in a news release. “The effects described characterize short-term effects of e-cig exposures. Whereas studies of long-term effects await further investigations, these results caution that e-cigarette inhalation may be associated with adverse effects on lung health.”

The findings were published in the American Journal of Physiology – Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology this month.

JTI files case against UK on plain packaging for cigarettes

The UK’s second biggest cigarette brand Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has joined the fray, filing a lawsuit against the government’s mandate for plain packaging.

The UK’s second biggest cigarette company Japan Tobacco International (JTI) has joined the fray, filing a lawsuit against the government’s mandate for plain packaging.

JTI’s suit follows similar actions taken by Philip Morris International (PMI) and British American Tobacco.

The companies have trained their guns on the government’s move to introduce standardized, unbranded packaging for cigarettes effective May 2017.

The trio has maintained that plain packaging will be in breach of legal provisions in the UK and European Union.

Smokers cost HK $11.3bn a year

A study by Chinese University of Hong Kong said smoking costs taxpayers HK$11.3 billion each year.

The University’s Faculty of Medicine estimated that health-care expenses and productivity losses related to tobacco more than doubled in less than 20 years.

Dr Vivian Lee, a CUHK Associate Professor who headed the research, said there are more than 640,000 smokers in Hong Kong, and she expects the city’s cost from their habit to go higher.

The study also found each local smoker spends about HK$20,000 on tobacco products each year, making Hong Kong one of the most expensive cities in which to smoke in the Asia-Pacific region.

Dr Lee said the cost of smoking in the SAR is higher than in South Korea, but lower than in Singapore. She said the authority should promote a comprehensive approach in reducing smoking morbidity, instead of simply raising cigarette taxes

Sweden puffs up outdoor smoking ban proposals

Plans for an outdoor smoking plan in Sweden are hotting up with reports that a majority of politicians in the Swedish parliament will back plans to stop people lighting up on terraces and in beer gardens.

Sweden was one of the first countries in Europe to ban smoking in restaurants, bars and cafes around the country, almost exactly ten years ago.

The idea of extending the ban to include places such as outdoor terraces has been repeatedly discussed in the Nordic nation and in October 2014 Sweden’s Public Health Agency (Folkhälsomyndigheten) revealed its full proposals for new limits, to be considered by the government.

Now, top Swedish lawyer Göran Lundahl has been tasked with checking out how such a law might be worded and how this would fit in with the latest EU Tobacco Products Directive, which was approved by the European Parliament in February 2014 and aims to further limit smoking across member states.

Lundahl’s research is set to be completed by March 1st 2016 but he told Swedish broadcaster SVT on Wednesday that he was hopeful that a ban on smoking in outdoor restaurant areas could work.

“It won’t be so difficult technically to extend the smoking ban to outdoor dining. However, it is a little more difficult when it comes to things such as sidewalks outside entrances. But we pondering on this and hope that we can come up with a scheme that works,” he said.

Meanwhile the broadcaster says it has information which suggests that a majority of politicians from across the political spectrum will support a ban on smoking in outdoor eating areas.

YOUR VIEWS: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?

Repeated polls suggest that most Swedes back the idea of an extended smoking ban, with young people especially in favour of the plan.

“It’s about time to make public places free of cigarette smoke,” the head of Sweden’s Public Health Agency Johan Carlson said last year when announcing its push for a ban.

“Many people are uncomfortable with cigarette smoke and it can even trigger breathing difficulties for asthmatics.”

Lung cancer groups in Sweden made headlines in 2013 after proposing that the country should have a total smoking ban by 2025.

Big Tobacco fights back: how the cigarette kings bought the vaping industry

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Crackdown urged on illicit cigs trade

A lobby group is calling for heavier penalties on illicit tobacco.

The call coincides with Sunday’s World No Tobacco Day campaign by the World Health Organization, which is calling on all nations to stop the unlawful trade.

Hong Kong United Against Illicit Tobacco wants the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance to be enforced and also seeks heavier penalties.

Group adviser Jeff Herbert, a former police senior superintendent, said it is indisputable the trafficking and distribution of illicit tobacco is a business dominated by criminal syndicates.

Hong Kong’s illicit cigarettes consumption rate stood at a massive 33.6 percent of total consumption, costing the government HK$3.2 billion in foregone tax revenues, an Oxford Economics study said last year.

Hong Kong Newspaper and Magazine Merchants’ chairman Bacon Liu Sair-ching said the illicit trade directly hurts the livelihood of small retailers.

“The last thing we need is extreme tax that can make Hong Kong’s rampant illicit trade problem even worse.” JASMINE SIU

Beijing vows to launch toughest-ever crackdown on smoking in June

Beijing will dispatch tobacco inspectors across the city next month in what is local media say is the capital’s toughest-ever anti-smoking campaign.

The inspectors will target illegal smoking at hotels and tourist attractions, The Beijing News reported, citing unnamed officials at the Beijing Municipal Tourism Commission.

Smoking will be not allowed at all key cultural sites in the capital and designated outside smoking areas will be set up in other tourist sites where outdoor smoking is permitted.

Tour guides will also be trained to help enforce the anti-smoking bans.

But from June 1, smoking will be banned at indoor places, workplaces and on public transport. Businesses that flout the law will face fines of up to 10,000 yuan (HK$12,600) and repeat offenders could have their business licences revoked.

Tobacco companies will also be banned from sponsoring public events, and tobacco advertising be removed from television, radio and the internet.

China is home to 300 million smokers, while 740 million more are exposed to second-hand smoke, state media has reported.

EU has duty to protect public health from tobacco

Implementing the WHO’s framework convention on tobacco control is key to tackling the industry’s repeated legal challenges, says Nessa Childers.

As we recognise the European week against cancer, we are also marking the world health organisation’s (WHO) world no tobacco day 2015.

Because of the very much normalised existence it still enjoys in our societies, it is important to recall the WHO’s shockingly succinct description of tobacco as the only legal consumer product that kills when used exactly as intended by the manufacturer.

Past and present experience with the lobbying and litigious strategies deployed by the tobacco industry demonstrates the extreme importance of robust policymaking in the interests of public health.

Following the Irish government’s decision to introduce plain packaging legislation, which was passed this year in the face of big tobacco’s legal threats, Japan Tobacco Ireland has issued proceedings in the Irish commercial court to block the new law on the shaky grounds that it infringes the EU directive on the harmonisation of labelling and packaging.

While JTI and other major tobacco companies were unsuccessful in their prompt challenge to Australia’s 2011 pioneering plain packaging legislation in that jurisdiction’s high court, on the spurious grounds that it infringed their intellectual property rights, one of the challenging parties, Philip Morris, decided to wage battle on another front.

They took to shifting some assets around, seemingly for the express purpose of claiming grounds to challenge Australia, under an obscure investor-state arbitration clause in a trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong.

This international arbitration challenge was launched in 2011, in parallel with the high court proceedings which proved unsuccessful under Australian law, and has locked Australia in a complex, protracted and expensive legal conflict with the tobacco company.

The current legal challenge brought by big tobacco to the Irish courts is being fought by the state on behalf of the Irish citizens in a proper court of law. The UK is likely to follow suit, as they decided to emulate the Australian and the Irish examples.

The ongoing trade negotiations between the EU and the US authorities may still result in a trade agreement with an investor-state dispute settlement clause, despite increasing public awareness and opposition to such private, parallel and pricy arbitration courts.

If the EU-US trade agreement is passed with such an arbitration clause, a new legal front is bound to open in a private arbitration forum, an opaque netherworld where the best paid legal suits stand an even better chance of ripping off the taxpayer as punishment for public interest policy that can cost big businesses big money.

The tobacco industry has demonstrated ample ability and willingness to aggressively make use of every conceivable instrument in the legal toolbox, together with the lobby firepower we witnessed during our work on the tobacco products directive in the previous legislature.

Their tactics raise disturbing questions, some of which remain unanswered and have taken on a legal life of their own in the EU court.

This why, in parliament’s environment, public health and food safety committee’s opinion for the upcoming report on transparency and integrity in the EU, I will be calling on the institutions to fully implement the WHO framework convention on tobacco control, so as to better protect public health policy from the vested interests of the tobacco industry.

About the author
Nessa Childers (S&D, IE) is a member of MEPs against cancer