Nicotine use by adolescents
During the pandemic, tobacco consumption increased noticeably, especially among young people. The trend is toward so-called tobacco heaters. With these electric devices, the tobacco is not burned as with regular cigarettes, but merely heated to a high temperature. The cabinet decided on Wednesday a bill from the Ministry of Agriculture, with whose assistance the use of the heaters is to be reduced now again.
As a purchase incentive are considered with the tobacco heaters in particular sticks with flavors such as apple or vanilla. According to the Ministry of Agriculture's draft, "characteristic flavors" are now to be banned. This refers to flavorings that mask the actual smell of tobacco and can be clearly perceived when smoked.
"Smoking is deadly - and the biggest preventable health risk," Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir said Wednesday. Nevertheless, he said, the number of consumers is on the rise again. "I'm particularly concerned that young people are starting to use it more again," the Green Party politician said. "What has been proven to kill should taste neither like berry nor melon nor vanilla," Özdemir further explained.
Such a ban on flavors for cigarettes and roll-your-own tobacco is already in place. Menthol cigarettes have been banned throughout the EU since 2020. With the new tightening of the law, Germany is implementing an EU directive that was passed in Brussels last year. E-cigarettes are not covered by the ban.
Last year, a report by the EU Commission revealed that retail sales volumes of tobacco heaters increased by more than ten percent in more than five EU member states between 2018 and 2020. According to the data, just over 20 billion sticks of heated tobacco were sold across the EU in 2020. By comparison, 408 billion cigarettes were sold in the Community during the same period.
SPD health politician Christos Pantazis welcomed the cabinet's decision as "sensible." According to him, tobacco cigarettes have the potential to harm health and cause addiction. Similar to the case of alcopops, which were popular in the noughties, "flavors are being used to try to lower the inhibition threshold for young people," he continued to tell the Tagesspiegel.
There is also approval from Renate Künast, the nutrition policy spokeswoman for the Green Party. "For a long time now, 'White Choco' or 'Vanilla Apple' have not just been ice cream flavors, they are also flavors for tobacco," she criticized. This development is one reason why more young people have become consumers again, she said. "Big tobacco companies have profited long enough from a regulatory loophole that has turned young adolescents into lifelong smokers," Künast said.
The Bundestag will soon consider the planned flavoring ban, which is to take effect in October. Meanwhile, the addiction and drug policy spokeswoman of the FDP parliamentary group, Kristine Lütke, wants to go one step further. The FDP politician is in favor of "finally providing smokers in Germany with another, less harmful alternative to the classic tobacco cigarette" - in the form of tobacco-free nicotine pouches.
Lütke criticizes the fact that tobacco-free nicotine pouches are currently classified as foodstuffs in Germany and "are therefore de facto not approved for sale". The draft amendment to the Tobacco Products Act now approved by the cabinet offers a good opportunity to include nicotine pouches in the amendment.
"With differentiated regulation of the manufacture, presentation and sale of tobacco-free nicotine pouches, a high level of consumer protection can be guaranteed," Lütke is convinced. If the Ministry of Agriculture were also to include nicotine pouches in the Tobacco Products Act, she says this would be "a real added value for the health of consumers of tobacco and nicotine products."
Nicotine pouches are made of plant fibers, humectants, water, flavors and nicotine salts. Unlike snus, which is widely used in Scandinavia, the pouches do not contain tobacco. Sale is prohibited in Germany, but the pouches are available through online retailers.
The classic cigarette, meanwhile, is considered a discontinued model by the tobacco industry. Even though far more conventional cigarettes are still sold throughout the EU than all the alternatives put together, manufacturers are now increasingly turning to e-cigarettes, tobacco heaters and nicotine pouches. The alternatives are advertised with the claim that they pose less of a health risk.
Photo by Kilian Seiler