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Scenihr report offers ammunition for anti-tobacco lobby in oncoming EU ingredients directive review.

SCENIHR report offers ammunition for anti-tobacco lobby in oncoming EU ingredients directive review

The European Union's (EU) scientific committee on emerging health risks has released a considered report on whether tobacco additives make tobacco products more addictive. While it has not released an explicitly anti-additive report, it has concluded that they may promote addiction. Expect these conclusions to be quoted widely in next year's review of the EU tobacco product directive.

The New Year promises to be fraught for tobacco companies serving the European Union (EU) market who now seem certain to have to combat a multi-front offensive against the use of additives in the manufacture of cigarettes and other products. It is bad enough for tobacco companies elsewhere, who will have to contend with the World Health Organisation (WHO) Uruguay agreement on the use of flavouring ingredients that increase the attractiveness of tobacco products. But in Europe, the industry faces a special escalation of political hostilities, with the European Commission beginning an impact assessment consultation as a preliminary to the process of revising the nearly 10 year old tobacco products directive (TPD) in 2011. This ends on December 17 and includes an option to introduce an approved list for tobacco ingredients--if an additive is not listed, it would be banned. This consultation and the review that will follow next year will have been deeply influenced by the November publication of a report on the role of tobacco additives by the EU's independent Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). It avoided coming down strongly against additives, but health campaigners will find ammunition to call for their banning within its pages. The SCENIHR report has the twin merits of scientific objectivity and freshness of research. Like many scientific papers on controversial topics, the SCENIHR report offers usable quotes for both sides though objective readers might think that it comes down less heavily on additives than health campaigners might have wished. Thus its conclusion: "The criteria for dependence established in humans indicate that tobacco has a high addictive potential, but it remains difficult to assess the addictiveness of individual additives."

The report says that "no tobacco additives which are addictive by themselves have so far been identified." However, this is not the whole story. The paper does suggest they could, in combination with tobacco, increase the addictiveness of tobacco products--and it is this conclusion that could spark new regulation.

It notes, for instance, that "sugars, polysaccharides and cellulose fibres which are naturally present in tobacco, or sugars added in high quantities to most tobacco products, give rise to numerous aldehydes, such as acetaldehyde, in tobacco smoke" and this may enhance the addictiveness of nicotine.

Another problem identified by the report, are "additives that facilitate deeper inhalation (e.g. menthol) or inhibit the metabolism of nicotine may enhance the addictiveness of nicotine indirectly," it says.

Indeed, of all individual additives, the SCENHIR report gives more space to menthol than any other, and if a case for restricting an additive could be based on the SCENHIR report, menthol may well be that additive.

The tobacco industry advertises menthol as a substance which alleviates harshness and enhances taste and smoothness, "but menthol may also facilitate nicotine delivery and increase the sensory impact of cigarettes," says the report. SCENHIR examines several industry and medical researches into menthol and reports that "recent reviews on health effects of menthol in cigarettes published by the tobacco industry have maintained its claim that menthol does not pose any adverse health effects when used as an additive in cigarettes."

Rob Burton, British American Tobacco's (BAT) international scientific affairs manager however argued that the issue of menthol from the point of view of regulators "is whether or not it's considered to be a characterising flavour and our position is strong that we do not use ingredients that attract underage minor into smoking and there is no evidence that use of menthol is attractive to children."

That is as may be. But second guessing what may concern EU regulators next year may be a tough task.

SCENIHR addresses the attractiveness of tobacco products issue and says it may be increased by some additives "but is also influenced by external factors such as marketing, price etc." The panel accepts that research is difficult in this field "due to ethical considerations that will usually preclude human testing of tobacco products, particularly among non-users or children" but asserts that "the use of fruit and candy flavours seems to favour smoking initiation in young people (and) menthol also attracts a number of smokers, in particular African Americans," noting menthol is far more popular in the US, where it has a major share of the market, than Europe when its share ranges from 1 to 5%.

It continues: "Additives may decrease the harshness and increase the smoothness of the smoke and "may in principle lead to brand preference or a higher consumption of tobacco products." The committee concludes that additives and design characteristics may modify consumption patterns, in a way which may impact on the uptake of tobacco and in the development of dependence. However, "it remains difficult to distinguish the direct effects of these additives from indirect effects such as the marketing towards specific groups." And this potential muddle, which will encourage the tobacco industry, is deepened by the committee's conclusion that "the methods used to quantify the addictive potency of additives have limitations because of technical challenges in experimentally manipulating the presence or absence of an additive in a tobacco product. Such experiments require large technical and financial resources. In addition, there are ethical issues if testing in humans is considered. Due to these limitations, the available methodologies are not considered adequate."

The full opinion is available at: scenihr_o_031.pdf So--not exactly a 'smoking gun' in the campaign against additives, one might think. But the all-important question is not what conclusions the scientists come to but what the EU's decision-takers decide to do about them.

An official in the EU's key Council of Ministers (representing member states) noted that the EU had collectively joined in the Uruguay WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) agreement and said it would be "highly unlikely" if this same policy approach, as spelt out in the November decision, was not carried through when the council considered the TPD revision next year. European Commission officials (who will draft and propose changes to the directive for consideration by the council and the European Parliament) also agreed that any legislation that could arise out of the SCENIHR report would be subsumed into the TPD revision and thus take the form of a directive which binds the EU member countries to action but allows them to do so according to their own national laws. This allows more flexibility than EU regulations, which must be complied with to the letter.

But the real trouble for the tobacco industry could be with the European Parliament, which shares legislative power over the proposal with the council. The matter will be handled by the parliament's public health committee. A key MEP here is Glenis Willmott, the Labour (socialist) member for the UK's East Midlands and Labour leader in the Parliament. She told Tobacco Journal International that "besides supporting the prohibition of additives which are toxic or carcinogenic, I also believe there no reason to permit additives which have no purpose other than to increase the attractiveness of tobacco products to consumers by increasing availability of nicotine, improving or mellowing the flavour, reducing dryness or masking unpleasant smells from the tobacco. It is precisely these additives which can increase addiction and the appeal of tobacco to young people and those taking up smoking for the first time."

Michael Prideaux, BAT director of corporate affairs said the SCENIHR report underlined the lack of scientific evidence to support such measures as approved during the WHO Uruguay meeting and in acknowledging the broad meaning of attractiveness the report "did not provide clear evidence that a specific additive affects the attractiveness of tobacco products intended for smoking."

Rob Burton, British American Tobacco's (BAT) international scientific affairs manager, said that "from our point of view the tobacco product directive review is going through a consultation process. We're providing input into that and we hope that it looks at evidence from SCENIHR that says there is no link to the use of ingredients and the attractiveness or addictiveness of tobacco products." Mr Burton said that BAT would feed in all its study data on the issue "and we'll keep reiterating our position that none of the ingredients we use at the levels we use them increases the attractiveness, addictiveness or toxicity of the product itself. Providing these things are based on sound science and evidence then we support appropriate regulation on that basis," he said.

The group press officer for Imperial Tobacco, Simon Evans, said his company did not add anything to its products to make it "more difficult for smokers to stop smoking, to make our products attractive to children or to increase the level or change the chemical form of nicotine in tobacco smoke." But he stressed Imperial's vulnerability to a tobacco products directive reform that targeted additives for its American blend tobaccos.

* EU scientists have concluded that tobacco additives may make tobacco products more addictive

* These conclusions will be used in next year's review of the EU tobacco product directive

* They will inform the EU approach to changing the WHO convention on tobacco control as regards additives.
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Author:Osborn, Alan
Publication:International News
Date:Dec 1, 2010
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