The WHO’s “prohibitionist” anti-vaping policy will cause “more death and suffering from smoking,” according to more than 100 global experts.
More than 100 global experts have criticized the World Health Organization for a stubborn anti-vaping stance that contributes to “millions” of preventable smoking-related deaths.
In an open letter ahead of a global tobacco control meeting next month, the group of independent experts on nicotine science and policy blasted the WHO for “disregarding the potential to transform the tobacco products market. high risk into low risk products ”.
“WHO rejects a public health strategy that could prevent millions of tobacco-related deaths,” they write.
The letter is addressed to Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – a 2004 treaty negotiated under the auspices of WHO with 168 signatories – ahead of the ninth Conference of the Parties which will begin on November 8.
“The WHO has waged a prohibitionist campaign against tobacco harm reduction, even though harm reduction from tobacco is part of its official policy (…) within the CCSA,” said Dr Colin Mendelsohn, founding president of the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association and three Australian signatories to the letter.
Also signatories are Professor Emeritus Wayne Hall of the National Center for Youth Substance Use Research at the University of Queensland and Dr Alex Wodak, Consultant Emeritus at St Vincent’s Hospital and Chair of Think Tank Australia21.
Dr Mendelsohn said the WHO “remains grossly and consistently misinformed about tobacco harm reduction and does not understand that it is replacing smoking”, but that its approach was “influential”, particularly in countries with less than tobacco use. low and middle income (LMIC).
“This will lead to more smoking-related death and suffering, especially in LMICs where most smoking-related deaths already occur,” said Dr Mendelsohn.
WHO says children are targeted
There are currently around one billion smokers worldwide, of which around 80 percent live in LMICs.
Tobacco is responsible for around eight million deaths per year.
In its 2021 Tobacco Report released in July, the WHO reiterated its opposition to e-cigarettes, citing the risk that children who use the products are up to three times more likely to use tobacco products at home. to come up.
“Nicotine is very addictive. Electronic nicotine delivery systems are harmful and need to be better regulated, ”WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the time.
“Where they are not prohibited, governments should adopt appropriate policies to protect their populations from the harms of electronic nicotine delivery systems and to prevent their absorption by children, adolescents and other vulnerable groups.”
As of the beginning of this month, Australia has banned the import of nicotine e-cigarettes after a “significant increase” in their use by young people. People can still buy the products if they have a prescription from their GP.
According to the WHO report, 32 countries have banned the sale of electronic cigarettes and 79 others have adopted at least one measure to crack down on their sale, use or promotion.
That still leaves 84 countries where they have not been regulated or restricted in any way.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries, campaigned against vaping.
“Over a billion people around the world still smoke,” Bloomberg said in July.
“And as cigarette sales plummeted, tobacco companies have aggressively marketed new products – like e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products – and lobbied governments to limit their regulation. Their goal is simple: to hook another generation to nicotine. We cannot let this happen.
“Vaping much less harmful”
In the letter to WHO, which raises seven key points and makes six recommendations, experts called on the organization to “modernize” its approach to tobacco control policy.
“Over the past decade, innovation in the tobacco and nicotine market has resulted in many nicotine products now available that do not involve burning tobacco leaves and inhaling tobacco. smoke, ”they write.
“These smoke-free products include vaping products, new oral nicotine sachets, heated tobacco products, and smokeless tobacco that is low in nitrosamine, such as snus.”
They note that cigarettes and other smoked tobacco products are responsible for the “vast majority” of smoking-related deaths worldwide, and that smokeless nicotine products “offer a promising avenue for reducing the harms of smoking. “.
“There is compelling evidence that smokeless products are much less harmful than cigarettes and that they can replace smoking for individuals and at the population level,” they write.
They recognized that there was “uncertainty as to the benefits and risks” associated with the products and noted the involvement of the tobacco industry.
“However, we must also consider the substantial body of evidence at our disposal and not allow undue caution or residual uncertainties to deny smokers promising options for moving away from combustible products that we know for sure are. deadly, ”they said.
Questions and answers full of “disinformation”
Last year, the WHO was accused of publishing a series of “misleading” questions and answers full of “blatant misinformation” about electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), more commonly known as e-cigarettes.
In questions and answers, the WHO warned that “tobacco products and NDT present health risks” and that “the safest approach is not to use them either”.
“The WHO has a history of anti-vaping activism which damages its reputation. This document is particularly harmful, ”said Professor Peter Hajek, director of the tobacco addiction research unit at Queen Mary University in London, in a statement at the time.
“Virtually all of the factual statements it contains are false. There is no evidence that vaping is “high addictive”: less than 1% of non-smokers become regular vapers. Vaping does not encourage young people to smoke – smoking among young people is [an] bottom of all time.
“There is no evidence that vaping increases the risk of heart disease or that could have any effect on the health of passers-by. The lung damage epidemic in the United States is caused by contaminants in illegal marijuana cartridges and has nothing to do with vaping nicotine. There is clear evidence that electronic cigarettes help smokers to quit smoking.
“The authors of this document should take responsibility for using blatant misinformation that may prevent smokers from switching to a much less risky alternative.”
Professor John Britton, director of the UK Center for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and consultant in respiratory medicine at the University of Nottingham, said the WHO document was “misleading in several ways”.
“This implies that nicotine vaping is the cause of the epidemic of severe lung disease in the United States in 2019, when it was in fact vaping of cannabis products,” he said. declared.
“He says there is no strong evidence that vaping is an effective way to quit smoking, when in fact there is evidence from the highest quality clinical trials demonstrating that vaping is more effective than WHO approved nicotine replacement therapy.
“He answers the question of whether electronic cigarettes are more dangerous than tobacco cigarettes by suggesting that we don’t know, when in fact they are clearly less harmful. In these ways alone, the WHO distorts the available scientific evidence. “