Tuesday, 3 November 2015

The e-cigarette debate in Norway: Government tricked into implementing the TPD?

Last week the Norwegian government, or actually two of the governing parties, announced that they want to allow selling e-cigarettes and e-liquid containing nicotine here in Norway. Regular readers of this blog might have read my posts on the subject last week, and if you haven't I hope you'll find them time to read them now. In short, it turned out that the government is really preparing to implement the TPD, and the Norwegian Union of Vapers (NDS) responded to this, exposing the governments hoax and what looks more like an attempt to win votes among vapers than a real effort to facilitate access to vaping products like they claim to be doing. This has revived the e-cigarette debate here in Norway quite a bit.

On Wednesday, the day after they covered Kjell Marius Jenssens critique, Dagbladet published another article with a not so positive angle. In this article Tom K. Grimsrud sadly gets to express his love for big pharma NRTs, claiming that there is to much optimism and too little caution. All of this of course based on ... we don't know enough about long term effects yet. The way I see it, since Grimsrud admits he is probably one of the few people left in Norway that does not know enough yet, he should be excluded from the debate. The article is not all bad news though, as Karl Erik Lund is also allowed to balance things out a bit. At the end of the article Grimsrud states that "E-cigarettes are not magic wands". There are millions of people that would strongly disagree with you on this, Grimsrud! In fact, magic wand is a description I think a lot of people would use when talking about their experience with e-cigs.

Cecilie Brein-Karlsen,
fooled by her own bureaucrats?
The same day, an answer to Jenssens critique was published on minervanett.no (the same place Jenssens article was first publised) titled Legal e-cigarettes - not a hoax. It's written by Cecilie Brein-Karlsen from FRP, one of the parties behind the proposal. I'm not going to translate the whole thing. Google's translation should at least give you the main points (the Norwegian word for vapor, "damp" can also mean steam, and it looks like google prefer that one... kind of funny). Brein-Karlsen attacks Jenssen, claiming that he doesn't know what he is talking about when it comes to EEA law, and also manages to claim that a lot of the things Jenssen say about the actual consequences of the TPD is wrong. To make it even worse she actually starts lecturing Jenssen about vaping and e-cigarettes. She claims that it is wrong that all e-cigarettes on the market today will be gone with nicotine limit directive stipulates. Obviously, she is the one with absolutely no clue what she's talking about here, but still she's trying to convince people that she is the expert. I have to admit I was lost for words that day, so I went ahead and posted a review I had already prepared instead of the rant that was building up inside  my head. I believe that was a wise decision.

The next day however, we're on Thursday now, I was amazed to see that Jenssen managed to keep his cool and another answer was published. 
It is very obvious that neither the State Secretary, or her department,  have the faintest idea of ​​what they are trying to regulate and what Article 20 of the EU's tobacco directive is all about.
Spot on! Jenssens angle on this is that FRP's and Høyre's statements in this case indicates that they've been mislead to actually believe they're doing the right thing:
Brein-Karlsens response is otherwise virtually identical to the answers that Morten Wold and others from FRP has given the media and our members in recent days.The answer is therefore probably written by the health bureaucrats behind the consultation paper and the draft amendment.
He continues to give a lot of references to actual science and real-life statistics that the bureaucrats probably "forgot" to mention to their employers (some of Farsalinos' research, the PHE report etc.). He also points out Farsalinos harsh criticism of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health's report on e-cigarettes earlier this year. 

Another important issue brought up in this debate, is whether Norway are legally committed to implement the TPD or not. We're not a member state of the EU, but we are a member of the EEA. The governing parties claim that this means we are legally committed to implement it. However, we already have an exception from the existing ban on Snus here in Norway, just like Sweden. We also have a state monopoly on all alcoholic beverages with more than 4.7% alcohol. Brein-Karlsen writes that Jenssen needs to familiarize himself with EEA law. What Brein-Karlsen seems to be unaware of (which is kind of scary for a governing politician) is that Norway (and the other EEA countries) can use their "reservation right" to reject any part of EU legislation. The problem is that this reservation right have never been used before, and we don't really know how the EU will react to this. In other words, the question isn't whether we can choose to reject the TPD or not, but whether our politicians dare to stand up to the EU or not. Seems to me like Brein-Karlsen is the one who needs to do some reading, not Jenssen.

The justification used for keeping the state monopoly on alcohol when Norway entered the EEA was public health considerations. I can't really see why this cannot be applied to e-cigarettes as well, but I'm no legal expert. In any case I think it's important that Norwegian vapers also continue to fight alongside their fellow European vapers against the TPD, as this will affect us in one way or another anyway.

In my opinion, with this last answer Jenssen shines a light on a big part of the problem: The politicians, that are going to decide the faith of vaping, have no clue what it is and they're fed the wrong information by the wrong kind of people. Hopefully, as the debate goes on, vapers and their organisations are also able to get their voices heard, and hopefully this will open some eyes.
NDS are sorry that we insinuated that Høie and Wold were lying to the public. The last days events have shown that they probably did not consciously try to bluff someone, but that they themselves may have been fooled.
NDS have done a fantastic job the last weeks getting the message out. Keep up the good work!

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