European regulators close in on Big Tobacco’s new tea sticks

28 March 2024

By Emma Rumney, Reuters

LONDON, March 28 (Reuters) – European governments are weighing the introduction of tougher rules on cigarette makers’ new zero-tobacco heat sticks, moving to close the loopholes they were designed to exploit just months after their launch.
 
Big tobacco companies including Philip Morris International (PM.N), opens new tab and British American Tobacco (BATS.L), opens new tab announced the launch of the sticks, made from nicotine-infused substances like rooibos tea, late last year as a way to counter an incoming European Union ban on flavoured heated tobacco products.
 
The European Commission said it was currently evaluating EU tobacco laws and any changes would be subject to the findings of that effort, public consultation and an impact assessment.
 
But, already, authorities in Latvia, Lithuania and Croatia are looking to introduce stronger regulations to govern the products, officials from the three countries told Reuters.
 
In Latvia, a draft bill would classify the zero-tobacco sticks as tobacco substitutes and subject to related controls, as well as a ban on all flavours except for tobacco from 2025, a health ministry spokesperson said.
 
“We plan to regulate them in future,” a spokesperson for Croatia’s health ministry agreed, adding they were addictive and had potential health risks. The person did not respond to requests for further information.
 
Regulation of such products is also being discussed internally in Lithuania, but it was too early to say what was on the table, a Ministry of Health spokesperson said.
 
German authorities, meanwhile, are in a dispute with some manufacturers over whether existing tobacco tax laws cover the new products, according to a spokesperson for the Federal Customs Authority.
 
BAT said it supports the introduction of evidence-based regulation and appropriate excise taxes for its zero-tobacco sticks, adding 15 EU member states have already introduced excise duties.
 
PMI also believes any nicotine-containing cigarette alternative should be regulated and taxed appropriately, a spokesperson said, adding however flavours play an important role in encouraging adult smokers to switch away from smoking.