A Flavour Ban on Heated Tobacco Products has Gone Into Effect Across the European Union

As of Monday October 23rd, a flavour ban on heated tobacco products (HTPs) which was passed in November 2022, has gone into effect.

On November 23rd 2022, the European Union (EU) passed a measure banning the sales of flavoured heated tobacco products within the EU. This regulation is part of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, which aims to reduce the number of people who use tobacco in the EU to lower than 5% by 2040, when currently, about 25% of the population does. The flavour ban was implemented by July 23rd, 2023, and applied by October 23rd.

In 2016, the EU introduced the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), which primarily focused on traditional tobacco products and vaping products. Heated tobacco products fell into a regulatory gray area, leading to calls for more specific rules. This resulted in the adoption of the Commission Delegated Directive (EU) 2022/2100 in November 2022. This directive explicitly banned the sale of flavored heated tobacco products, marking a major step in addressing this product category.

A new tobacco-free heated tobacco product
This new Glo actually contains rooibos tea leaves, instead of tobacco, hence it can be freely sold across the EU.

Meanwhile, the tobacco industry is getting creative in response to such regulations. Last month, British American Tobacco Plc (BAT) launched a herbal rooibos tea version of its Glo device, in nine European markets: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czechia, Germany, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania.

This new Glo actually contains rooibos tea leaves, instead of tobacco, hence it is being marketed as a tobacco-free heated cigarette alternative. Rooibos tea, comes from South Africa, where it is widely used and considered a health product due to the fact that it is rich in antioxidants. BAT explained that when heated, the tea’s subtle earthy taste makes it an effective base for a tobacco-free nicotine product. The tea leaves are then infused with nicotine and regular flavours such as peppermint and tropical fruit.

These rooibos tea tobacco-free herbal heated sticks fall outside the scope of the existing European Tobacco Excise Directive and the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), hence they are a viable HTP option to sell in Europe. The TPD solely pertains to the regulation of tobacco products, herbal smoking products, and electronic cigarettes.

Switching from cigarettes to HTPs reduces health risks
Meanwhile, various studies on heated tobacco products have shown their potential benefits and efficacy as smoking cessation tools. The main findings are related to the reduced harm associated with HTPs compared to traditional cigarettes. This is due to the fact that they operate by heating tobacco rather than burning it, leading to reduced levels of the harmful chemicals which are normally produced by the combustion process.

Furthermore, biomarker studies have shown that smokers who switch to HTPs are exposed to less toxic compounds when switching from smoking. In fact, a 2022 review covering data from 11 studies and over 2,600 people, found that smokers who switched to HTPs had lower levels of exposure to harmful chemicals associated with severe health issues such as cancer, heart disease, and respiratory problems.

The effectivity of HTPs as smoking cessation aids
Heated tobacco products are also effective at delivering nicotine, making them an effective option for smokers looking to transition from conventional cigarettes to a safer alternative. In fact two Japanese studies included in the review reported drops in cigarettes sales as a result of IQOS entering the local market.

A recent study group of researchers from the University of Catania compared the effectivity of heated tobacco products (HTPs) and electronic cigarettes (ECs) for smoking cessation. The researchers conducted a 12-week randomized trial to compare the effectiveness and product satisfaction between HTPs (IQOS 2.4 Plus) and a refillable vape (JustFog Q16) among participants who had no intention of quitting.

A total 211 participants took part in the study. Of these, 39.1% HTP users and 30.8% EC users quit successfully. The findings led to the conclusion that switching from cigarettes to HTPs effectively led to a reduction in smoking in people who had no intention of quitting, comparable to the one elicited by switching to vapes.

In light of all these findings in favour of HTPs, tobacco harm reduction and public health experts have been arguing that banning the flavoured versions of these products will be counterproductive to smoking cessation efforts across Europe. Data has shown that the majority of HTP users are adult smokers seeing to quit, and many studies have shown that the availability of flavours plays an important role in encouraging smokers to switch to alternative products such as vapes and HTPs.