Twelve EU Member States presented a paper at the Health Council, calling for the European Commission to initiate a debate on all nicotine-based products, particularly those aimed at children. The signatories of the paper (Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Poland, Slovenia and Spain) say that despite initiatives to regulate these products and make them less attractive and accessible to children, they are still easily available online and often sold to those underage.

The paper argues that an EU solution is needed to “future-proof tobacco legislation to ensure that new and future products fall within the regulatory scope and that media providers take greater responsibility for marketing”. While it is tobacco, rather than nicotine that kills, there is growing concern that nicotine addiction should also be addressed.

New research on the use of smoke-free nicotine products among the young, produced by the Danish National Health Authority, says that products are being explicitly marketed to appeal to children and adolescents and some contain an extremely high level of nicotine. The research found that consumption is causing problems with concentration and the ability to learn new skills.

Nicotine can also affect the mental well-being of children, making them prone to anxiety and depression. The research also suggests that the early use of these products may lead to the use of tobacco products, including smoking. The delegations would like to see a ban on flavours, a limit on nicotine content and a complete ban on certain products.

Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides described nicotine as a ‘gateway’ to other products. She said that as part of the review of the Tobacco Products Directive, the European Commission is assessing its performance in relation to novel tobacco products and other emerging products. “So far, we have prohibited the use of flavoured heated tobacco products because we saw a huge increase in their consumption in the EU. But the reality is, it’s a very challenging task. It needs to be very carefully assessed so that we’re able to target it properly.”

Frank Vandenbroucke, Belgium’s minister for social affairs and public health, who was chairing the meeting as EU presidency lead said that there was a great deal of support around the table, though some ministers expressed concerns about proportionality. He said there was recognition that “there absolutely needs to be an update of the legislative framework to take on board vaping and other new nicotine products”.