Category Archives: Group 2

Lack of research prevents action on tiny chemicals

By Stefan Sigaard Weichert and Luc Rinaldi.

Small particles called nanomaterials are slipping through the cracks of the European Union’s chemical legislation, but a lack of information on the subject makes politicians reluctant to regulate the growing nanoindustry. Scientists say more research is needed before these potentially harmful substances can be properly addressed.

“I’m worried, not for myself, but for my children,” says Kevin Stairs, Greenpeace’s EU chemicals policy director. “They’re the generation that grew up with sunscreen, and as a parent, I always used it for my children. Now I have my doubts. Was that really the best thing to do? It’s one big question mark.”

What’s worrying Kevin Stairs is nanomaterials – miniature particles 800 times smaller than a human hair – which are found in anything from sunscreen and childrens’ toys to milk and electronics. Titanium dioxide, a nanomaterial used in most sunscreens, can cause cancer and, because of its small size, has a unique ability to enter human lungs.

The risks, however, of other nanomaterials, aren’t as well established. While these small particles make computers run faster and could potentially cure diseases that can’t be remedied today, little is known about this relatively new area of science, making Kevin Stairs worried about its possible consequences.

And so far, the European Union hasn’t developed legislation particularly targeting the use of nanomaterials, creating concern that these tiny chemicals are slipping through the cracks of REACH, the EU’s chemical legislation.

Cosmetic products containing nanomaterials in the European Union will require a “(nano)” label following nano ingredients as of July 2013. Now stakeholders are discussing whether or not to require labelling on non-cosmetic products as well.

In theory, not in practice

“REACH covers nanomaterials theoretically, but it fails to cover them in practice. There are no specific demands for nanomaterials in the legislation, which is a problem because nanomaterials can act differently from the same chemical in a larger form,” says Steffen Foss Hansen, senior researcher at the Technical University of Denmark.

He says it is now unclear which nanomaterials should be tested and how. Nanomaterial manufacturers can register nanomaterials and their larger forms under the same chemical registration, treating them as one substance rather than two or more. This makes it impossible to determine whether a given nanomaterial is safe to use or not, says Steffen Foss Hansen.

“The EU needs to regulate this area so that industries provide information on their nanomaterials, which scientists need in order to do risk assessments to find out which materials are hazardous and which are safe,” he says.

Maila Puolamaa, a policy officer from the European Commission working with nanomaterials and REACH, agrees that nanomaterials need to be better covered. She says, however, that contradictory research results make it difficult to form conclusions about the potential dangers of nanomaterials, which has prevented the Commission from proposing new legislation to tackle them. The Commission will revisit nanomaterial registration by December 2013.

“REACH defines substance in a very broad way. Whether they are one size or another, they are all covered under the definition of substance. But we need to go on clarifying how nanomaterials are addressed within the legislation,” says Maila Puolamaa.

The regulation of nanomaterials falls under the authority of Enterprise and Industry, a branch of the European Commission. (Photo by Luc Rinaldi)
The regulation of nanomaterials falls under the authority of Enterprise and Industry, a branch of the European Commission. Photo: Luc Rinaldi.

‘Hanging onto life by teeth and fingernails’

That need for clarification is made more urgent by the fact that the nanomaterial industry is growing rapidly. It employs roughly 400,000 people within the European Union today, and products containing nanomaterials are expected to grow in volume to €2 trillion by 2015 from €200 billion in 2009. Maila Puolamaa is concerned that a potential new nano legislation could harm the growing nanoindustry.

“Too much regulation would cut the wings off small and medium enterprises and discourage them from trying new things,” she says. “It’s telling innovators: ‘Don’t touch this area.’ If we don’t find a balance, we will lose access to the opportunity to benefit from these new innovations and we’ll lose competition in the industry in Europe. Manufacturers will move out and go elsewhere.”

Steffi Friedrichs, director general of the Nanotechnology Industries Association, says that a change in REACH would create uncertainty in the nanoindustry, which would make it difficult for nanomaterial producers to attract investors. Reporting nanomaterials and standard chemicals separately, she says, would paralyze small enterprises.

“You are a small company. You have nine employees. You are hanging onto life by your teeth and fingernails. You have 27 different nanomaterials that are your whole livelihood. So you have to have someone who, 27 times, 3 hours a day, reports information. There is basically no way any small company can do that,” says Steffi Friedrichs.

A catastrophic catch-up game

To Kevin Stairs, the uncertainty surrounding nanomaterials is nothing new. Since joining Greenpeace – before the public was even aware of nanomaterials – he says he’s seen legislation lag behind the issue in many cases.

“We’re playing a catch-up game, but that’s not the way to do it,” he says. “Let’s get ahead of it. Let’s get the evidence. Let’s get to the point where we can say that it is unlikely to cause harm.”

Kevin Stairs, Greenpeace's EU chemicals policy officer, says nanomaterials are a "hidden attack" on consumers that can impact human health and the environment.
Kevin Stairs, Greenpeace’s EU chemicals policy officer, says nanomaterials are a “hidden attack” on consumers that can impact human health and the environment. Photo: Luc Rinaldi.

In the case of nanomaterials, Steffen Foss Hansen says the first step is to create new guidelines for testing and registering nanomaterials, which would allow authorities to control what’s in the market and create a Europe-wide database of products containing nanomaterials, like the one he’s helped pioneer in Denmark.

“In Germany, it took authorities three months to figure out that a product called NanoMagic didn’t contain nanomaterials. It was in 2006, and back then, it really gave nanotechnology a bad wipe. It’s shocking that the authorities still don’t even have the basic information about the manufacturing, uses and risks of most nanomaterials and nanoproducts,” says Steffen Foss Hansen.

Authorities should help the industry by providing the expertise needed to conduct tests on nanomaterials and shine a light on their effects, he adds.

“We have been working in this area for 10 years and we haven’t got much further,” says Steffen Foss Hansen. “It’s catastrophic.”

READ MORE: European Union struggles to legislate tiny substances

EU’s attempt to reduce youth smoking meets scepticism

By Amel Semmache and So Jeong Lim.

 

The European Commission recently proposed to prohibit strong tobacco flavours and increase health warnings on cigarette packages with the aim to reduce youth smoking in the EU. Yet, the proposed measures fail to satisfy many activists, industrials and politicians.

According to recent figures from the European Commission, 70% of European smokers started to smoke before the age of 18. The current EU tobacco regulation showing flaws in preventing young people from starting to smoke, the European Commission decided to introduce new measures targeting the youngest EU citizens.

Included in this proposal is a ban on strong tobacco flavourings such as menthol. A requirement of 75% of cigarette packaging surface dedicated to health warnings – including shocking pictures and quit-smoking help line – would also be mandatory; measures that until now were regulated by member states.

Still, the proposal received mixed reactions from stakeholders who find it either too restrictive or not progressive enough.

Industries make tobacco taste like candy

Since the last Tobacco Products Directive was implemented in 2001, the tobacco products landscape has changed radically. E-cigarettes, slims and countless numbers of new flavours and package designs have flooded the tobacco market.

Studies conducted for the Commission’s proposal show that tobacco additives such as menthol are involved in tobacco addiction and certain tobacco flavours appear to mainly target the younger consumers.

“We think that the use of ingredients and in particular strong flavourings is without any doubt a kind of hook from the industry to attract young people,” said Frédéric Vincent, spokesperson of the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, Tonio Borg, in charge of this proposal.

“We have seen new types of cigarettes for young people that really taste like candy,” stated Niels Them Kjær, Coordinator for Tobacco Prevention at the Danish Cancer Society. “If we don’t make limits on which kind of additive you can put on tobacco, you will probably have an increase of young smokers.”

An expert and young people express their views on the proposed measures

 

The proposal fails to persuade industries

As the proposal is now being debated in the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, doubts on the proposal’s effectiveness has risen quickly. Industrials and some politicians think that the proposal fails to address the problem of youth smoking.

According to Thierry Lebeaux, Head of EU Affairs at Japan Tobacco International – tobacco products manufacturer that owns brands such as Camel and Winston – the measures proposed by the Commission are not pertinent.

He thinks that minors are not encouraged to smoke because of the package or flavour of tobacco. For him, “they may start to smoke because their environment [relatives or friends] smoke and they are given their first cigarette. The first cigarette is not chosen, it is the one which is available to them. The problem is not the choice of products but the availability of products.”

 

If the proposal is accepted, packages would all look similar to this one in 2015
If the proposal is accepted, packages would all look similar to this one in 2015

 

A timid proposal

In contrast, many were expecting more progressive moves from the Commission and believe that the proposal could go further ahead as Australia and Canada did.

François-Xavier Vauchelle, assistant to Françoise Grossetête, MEP from the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) believes that more can be done in Europe to inform young people about the damage of tobacco. “The European Union can incite, can help member states to do more on this issue,” he said. “The European Commission has the possibility to finance and to organise campaigns on tobacco”.

Moreover, researchers in Spain found that the proposed warning images would not be effective enough among the youngest. Their study focused on the emotional impact of tobacco warning images on different age groups.

“Younger participants evaluated tobacco warning images as less triggering than older participants,” reported Miguel A. Muños, Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of the Balearic Islands (Spain).

“The current tobacco warning images may be less effective to provoke reluctance on smoking in the adolescent population. In this sense, the use of images more arousing for adolescent population should be considered.”

A middle of the road approach

Facing polarised reactions, the European Commission believes that the proposal is balanced.

“We were expecting to have a strong debate on tobacco,” stated Frédéric Vincent. “The simple fact that you have some people criticising – the industries, some member states – and on the other hand some very strong NGOs saying it’s not enough, for us it shows that we have chosen the right approach – a middle of the road approach.”

Watch Health and Consumer Policy Commissioner Tonio Borg explaining the main goals of the proposed Tobacco Products Directive.

Reports on the ongoing debates in the European Parliament and Council of Ministers should be published soon. If the new Directive is adopted in time, it is expected to be implemented at the earliest in 2015.

 

Gender struggles in the European People’s Party

By Bethan Williams and Joséphine Simar.

Less than 1 in 11 decision making positions in the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) are filled by women. The Party currently has no policies in place to ensure gender equality amongst their party members or to ensure that women are encouraged to reach decision making positions.

“Women are focused at the bottom of the employment pyramid, and the European Parliament is no exception there”, says Elisabeth Morin-Chartier, European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) Member of Parliament and Vice-Chair of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality committee. Made up of 270 Members of Parliament, 10 out of the group’s 11 chair and vice-chair positions are filled by men.

The biggest political group in the European Parliament has just 9% women in its leading positions
The biggest political group in the European Parliament has just 9% women in its leading positions

Within the European People’s Party group (EPP) there are different opinions on which issues are the most important to discuss.

“Some of the men in the group are very active in this question. Approximately half of the group is working in favour of more women in decision making positions, the other half is not. This is not just a subject for women to take care of. Men and women need to talk about it together”, Morin-Chartier says.

EPP Member of Parliament Sirpa Pietikäinen agrees, saying, “The European People’s Party numbers of leading women are very low. This has to be corrected in the next time making elections. Quotas seem the most effective way to achieve this”.

Meanwhile, some of the Parliament’s 7 political groups have succeeded in introducing policies to address gender inequality in decision making positions. The Group of the Greens/Free Alliance have 55.5% women in their Chair and Vice Chair positions, with 5 women and 4 men in their top positions. Group member Franziska Brantner says, “Women are half of the population and therefore equality is needed. We should all aim for 50/50”.

In his opinion on the issue, Commission Vice-President and European Commissioner of Economic and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn says, “Research shows that women in top positions increase economic and human potential. Therefore, improving gender equality is of paramount importance and should be a central element in overcoming our economic tendencies”.

74% male chairs leave women fighting in EU

Many are the directives, recommendations and laws regarding gender equality in EU member states.  However, 3 out of 7 political groups have less than 10% women in their chair and vice chair positions. The European institutions that regulate this issue do not have sufficient policies to ensure a gender equal workplace in the European Parliament.

By Bethan Williams and Joséphine Simar

A conference for the International Women’s day, March 8th, saw a panel of politicians and experts ready to discuss the impact of the economic crisis on women. Of the 12 speakers claiming to be passionate about the issue ‘Working for Equality’, only one of them was a man.

Raül Romeva i Rueda  (Greens/EFA) was the only was speaker at the conference 'Women and the Economic Crisis'
Raül Romeva i Rueda (Greens/EFA) was the only male speaker at the conference ‘Women and the Economic Crisis’

Gender equality has been an important part of the European Union’s basic values since the Rome Treaty in 1957. The Lisbon Treaty from 2007, states “It (The European Union) shall combat social exclusion and discrimination, and shall promote social justice and protection, equality between women and men…”

European Commissioner for Finance and Monetary Affairs Olli Rehn, confirms that too few women holding decision making positions in politics is an urgent issue.

“Promoting sustainable development and governance of gender equality, should not been seen separated from other policy areas. Promotion of economic opportunity should be present in all policies, including gender”, he says.

 

Positive effects for politics

According to Sylvia Walby, a professor of sociology at Lancaster University, United Kingdom, gender equality in decision making positions proves to be the most successful combination.

As a chair of gender research group UNESCO, Walby states:
“Women are more likely to bring different kinds of questions to the agenda. For example questions concerning child care and gender equality”.

Academic Sylvia Walby presenting her findings
Academic Sylvia Walby presenting her findings

 

Campaigning for equality

There is a growing debate as to whether European institutions are actively addressing gender inequality. The European Women’s Lobby: an independent non-government organization are critical of this. They aim for all European institutions to reach gender parity by the next parliamentary elections in 2014 by suggesting quotas on gender equality through their ongoing campaign named ‘Europe Back On Top With 50/50’.

Zita Gurmai, of the Social and Democrats, is one of only 5 Members of Parliament that are directly involved in the 50/50 campaign. Reflecting upon why the campaign is needed, Gurmai says:
“Less than 35% of the European Parliament are women, it sounds a lot compared to the average in the rest of the world. We are better than others, but the European Union has committed itself to gender equality yet there is an average of just 23% women in parliaments across Europe”.

Serap Altinisik, the European Women’s Lobby fundraising coordinator and policy officer sees the 2014 parliamentary elections as a prime opportunity for equality to be addressed.
“In 2014 we are going to elect a new Parliament. This is a key opportunity to achieve gender parity after 13 years of male leadership”.

The European Women’s Lobby sees quotas as the only possible way to ensure that gender parity is reached in an urgent, efficient and lasting manner.
“We want women as a priority in the European agenda and not just during the week of International Women’s Day”, Serap Altinisik says. “Quotas are apparently the only way. Self commitment is not functioning; therefore we need quotas to ensure that women are heard”.

 

See an academic view and the debate on quotas from a Danish perspective below:

 



“The institution should practice what they preach. Women’s rights are human rights and they deserve legislative support to keep them in place in all workplaces” says Sirpa Pietikäinen: a Member of European Parliament for the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats).

“As a way to reach equality quotas are the most effective way forward, they are just a normal legal protection measure. Opposing quotas reveals the heart of this issue”, Sirpa Pietikäinen says.

During the recent event of International Women’s Day on March 8, the Parliament raised awareness of ways to reach gender parity. In a parliamentary conference titled ‘Women and the Economic Crisis’ the ways for women to get to top positions scored highly on the agenda. Dagmar Schumacher, director of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women says:
“We need policies to create gender equality, we need to advance this case as part of the solution”.

Graph groups
Graph indicates the men to women ratio in the political groups of the European Parliament. Research: Bethan Williams and Joséphine Simar, March 2013.

EU heads for new type of cigarette package

New cigarette packaging replacing all but the brand name with health warnings has been considered as a solution to reduce smoking rates in the European Union. However, some doubts remain on whether the European Union is going to adopt plain packaging in the future.

By Amel Semmache and So Jeong Lim

Example of Plain cigarette pack - Tobacco Control Supersite
Example of Plain cigarette pack – Tobacco Control Supersite

 

 

Powerful solution for EU youth smoking

Plain packaging is increasingly being considered by some EU member states. As plain packaging of cigarettes makes packages less attractive and includes bigger health warnings, It can make people deter from smoking; especially teenager who are highly receptive to cigarette brands’ marketing .

 

In sync with this tendency, on the Februry 25th, there was a the public hearing about European commission’s new proposal about tobacco which includes mandatory health warnings covering 75% of cigarette packages surface. Plain packaging was dealt with many times with the new proposal.

 

There are lots of voices in favor of plain packaging. Member of the European Parliament, Carl Schlyter, from the Greens-European Free Alliance thinks that the new proposal is not enough to prevent young people from smoking and suggests to adopt plain  packaging.

 

According to Karen Moore, Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at Monash University (Australia), plain packaging has been shown to be important in reducing some of the positive perceptions people have about smoking, and she suggests the EU should follow this step.

 

 

– One of the main arguments for plain packaging is to ban all attractive marketing that targets young consumers.
Here, children express their enthusiasm on visually-appealing cigarette packages.
 
 
 

Untimely suggestion for EU

At the same time, others doubt that the EU is ready to adopt plain packaging.

François Xavier Vauchelle, assistant of Françoise Grossetête, Member of the European Parliament from the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), is not sure that plain packaging would be the solution to fight against tobacco dependency. He thinks that the EU needs to wait for more countries than Australia to use plain packaging and for studies and impact assessments to follow.

 

Even though the European Commission has an ambitious goal for reducing serious numbers of smokers, plain packaging does not seem as part of the agenda at the moment. While plain packaging has been highly considered by the European Commission, it is not part of its recent proposal on tobacco products regulation.

 

Frédéric Vincent, spokesperson of the Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, Tonio Borg, explains that the plain packaging cannot be implemented as some member states strongly opposite it. “Let’s be frank, if we had proposed plain packaging, it’s very likely that it would not have been approved by the member states,” he says. “We’re going quite far with the 75%, giving the option for member states to go all the way with plain packages.”

 

In spite of many voices that suggest plain packaing, the EU has not taken the step of imposing the plain packaging yet. Having plain packaging could only become a reality if Member States make concessions.

 

EU struggles to legislate tiny substances

By Stefan Sigaard Weichert and Luc Rinaldi.

A widespread lack of information on nanomaterials is preventing decision makers in the European Union from developing new measures to cover the potentially harmful tiny particles. A Member of European Parliament is calling for nanomaterials to be incorporated into the current chemical legislation, while lobbyists say the legislation should be left as is. 

Dan Jørgensen have been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 for the danish party Socialdemokraterne.
Dan Jørgensen has been a member of the European Parliament since 2004 for the Danish party Socialdemokraterne. Photo: Luc Rinaldi

“I think that it is clear that nanomaterials are not properly regulated. There is a legislation, but the problem is that it doesn’t address nanomaterials specifically. It’s still a very unknown area, and we do not know what it can do,” says Dan Jørgensen, a Member of European Parliament for the Socialists and Democrats.

Nanomaterials – particles between 1 and 100 nanometres, or 800 times smaller than a human hair – are widely used substances, found in sprays, food and a number of other everyday products. While the risks of some nanomaterials are well documented (for example, nanosilver, which is used in paints, washing machines and antibacterial, is toxic and can affect living cells), the dangers of others aren’t yet known.

“When I first heard of this, I thought, ‘Let’s ban it, but when you look into it, you can see that it also has big potential. Nanomaterials can be efficient for the environment, cure diseases that we never thought we could heal, and do so many other good things. So it’s a balance,” says Dan Jørgensen, adding that it would be best to rewrite the EU´s current chemical legislation, REACH, so it covers nanomaterials.

But Lone Mikkelsen, chemicals policy officer for the Danish Ecological Council, does not support the idea of opening the REACH legislation. Instead, she proposes the creation of a “nano patch,” a separate piece of legislation specifically targeting nanomaterials.

“At first, we wanted a REACH revision because they could add revisions to the text for nanomaterials,” she says. “But the Commission argued that the industry could be too strong economically and actually water down the legal text.”

Lobbyists representing the nanoindustry also say that opening the text isn’t the solution, arguing that it would create uncertainty within the industry.

READ MORE: Lack of information prevents action on tiny substances with unknown effects