Concerns over WHO e-cigs report

| October 26, 2016

The International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO) has added its support to a critical report by leading academics attached to the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS) in response to the latest report on electronic cigarettes from the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

The WHO report is due to form the basis for discussions at the forthcoming Conference of the Parties (CoP) to the FCTC, which is scheduled to be held in India on November 7-12.

The FCTC’s 180 signatories will be looking to decide future global policies on tobacco and nicotine products.

Meanwhile, the EU’s collective position on electronic cigarettes was formulated at a meeting in Brussels earlier this week.

In a press note, Atakan Befrits, INNCO’s press officer, was quoted as saying that “reports suggest the EU statement will not contain any positive statements on the risk reduction e-cigarettes offer for smokers, despite recent evidence reviews by Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians that showed enormous benefits for those who switch”.

INNCO said it was calling upon all EU Ministers of Health to give immediate attention to the issues raised in the UKCTAS critique of the WHO report. ‘It is important that the EU collective response to e-cigarettes reflects the positive health benefits conferred on smokers who switch to safer nicotine products, and [that] these benefits, as well as potential risks, are assessed objectively,’ it said.

“The WHO’s current policy on e-cigarettes is more likely to endanger public health instead of improving it,” said Judy Gibson, INNCO’s steering group co-ordinator. “Once again the WHO remains resolute in refusing to acknowledge scientific evidence and opinions from the world’s leading experts in tobacco addiction. This needs to change – now.”

The UKCTAS academics’ critique of the WHO report set out a series of concerns about the content of the document which, in their view, does not fairly represent existing evidence on electronic cigarettes.

According to a UKCTAS press note, the critique examines each element of the WHO report and identifies flaws in the way the evidence is presented and problems with how the report could be interpreted, potentially encouraging countries to adopt excessive restrictions on electronic cigarettes which could undermine efforts to reduce smoking.

‘The UKCTAS critique points to evidence set out in the recent Royal College of Physician’s’ report “Nicotine without Smoke” and subsequent research which recognise that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than smoking and that smokers who find it difficult to stop should be encouraged to use them,’ the press note said.

‘The WHO report fails to accurately present what is already known about e-cigarettes. In particular, it: positions e-cigarettes as a threat rather than an opportunity to reduce smoking; fails to accurately quantify any risks of e-cigarettes compared with smoking; misrepresents existing evidence about any harms to bystanders; discounts the fact that e-cigarettes are helping smokers to quit; does not recognise the place of some promotion of e-cigarettes to encourage smokers to switch to these less harmful products; fails to understand that the flavours in e-cigarettes are useful for people trying to stop smoking; mischaracterises the current e-cigarette market and appears to support very restrictive policies on e-cigarettes without including any good policy analysis.

‘In addition, the WHO report does not acknowledge that significant restrictions on e-cigarettes could lead to unintended consequences, including increases in smoking.’

The researchers point out that the WHO briefing is based on four unpublished papers that are still undergoing peer review, which does not allow for open, transparent scrutiny of the evidence. ‘This does not, therefore, provide a good basis for policy making and risks undermining rather than promoting the aims of the FCTC, which is a treaty that was designed to help countries reduce smoking rates and save lives,’ they say.

UKCTAS is a network of 13 universities (12 in the UK, one in New Zealand) funded by the UK Clinical Research Collaboration. The Centre conducts research, teaching and policy work into tobacco and alcohol, both important public health concerns. UKCTAS says that it aims to deliver an international research and policy development portfolio, and build capacity in tobacco and alcohol research. ‘Our work includes developing strategies for behavior change in tobacco and alcohol use, assessing risks, identifying measures to reduce harm, monitoring the tobacco and alcohol industries, and developing effective public policies to improve public health and wellbeing,’ it says. ‘UKCTAS has no links with and receives no funding from either tobacco or e-cigarette companies. Further information can be found at www.ukctas.net

Category: Breaking News

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