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E.U. proposes ban on flavored heated tobacco products as sales rise

A “heat-not-burn” device at a store in Tokyo in 2018. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)
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LONDON — The European Union is proposing to extinguish the use of flavored heated tobacco products across its 27 member states, in a bid to tackle cancer rates.

Its executive arm, the European Commission, announced a proposal Wednesday to ban their sale in response to a “significant” increase in popularity across member states. Heated tobacco products have exceeded 2.5 percent of overall sales in the E.U., a report by the commission found.

The ban would cover only heated tobacco products — which work by heating processed tobacco leaf at a lower level than that of traditional cigarettes, letting smokers inhale nicotine — not electronic cigarettes that use flavored liquids containing nicotine derived from tobacco.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heated tobacco products are “harmful” and have not been proved to help smokers quit. Scientists are also still learning about their short- and long-term health effects, the CDC said, especially for young people.

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The E.U. is working to create a “Tobacco Free Generation,” aiming to have less than 5 percent of the population using tobacco by 2040.

“With nine out of ten lung cancers caused by tobacco, we want to make smoking as unattractive as possible to protect the health of our citizens and save lives,” Stella Kyriakides, E.U. commissioner for health and food safety, said in a statement.

“Stronger actions to reduce tobacco consumption, stricter enforcement and keeping pace with new developments to address the endless flow of new products entering the market — particularly important to protect younger people — is key for this,” she added.

The ban would include components such as filters and capsules but not affect traditional cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco or water pipes, according to the proposal.

In the United States this month, the Food and Drug Administration banned Juul Labs from selling its popular electronic cigarettes, citing insufficient data on health and safety. The Silicon Valley company was granted a delay on implementation of the ban while it appeals in federal court.

Public health advocates have long warned that a surge in vaping, particularly among young people, is cause for concern, arguing that the products rely on fun flavors and slick marketing campaigns but have not been proved as healthier alternatives to smoking.

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Heated tobacco products were created in the 1980s but discontinued after they didn’t catch on. They experienced a rebirth in 2014, mostly in Japan, but their popularity has spread to Europe and the United States, with many tobacco companies now stocking a heated tobacco product, according to a study in the Lancet medical journal last year.

The most popular include IQOS, by Philip Morris International, and glo, by British American Tobacco, but the study found that “levels of use are low” in Europe and “more common among younger people.” It added that more data and independent research into the products was needed.

The World Health Organization has warned against their use, while the European Respiratory Society has also raised concerns, saying that although it is “tempting” to recommend that smokers switch from traditional cigarettes, the products are still “harmful and highly addictive.” The nonprofit added that there is “no evidence” that heated tobacco products are efficient smoking-cessation aids.

The E.U. proposal will now be scrutinized by the European Council and Parliament, and if it’s approved, member states would have several months to implement the ban.

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