The World Health Organization conceded in a report released yesterday that ‘experts’ suggest that electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) could have a role to play in helping some smokers quit their habit.
But overall, the report is cautious to the point of negativity and one informed observer said that though WHO’s mission was to save lives and prevent disease, once again it was exaggerating the risks of electronic cigarettes while downplaying the huge potential of these non-combustible low-risk nicotine products to end the epidemic of tobacco related disease.
‘WHO claims e-cigarettes are a threat to public health, but this statement has no evidence to support it, and ignores the large number of people who are using them to cut down or quit smoking completely,’ said Professor Gerry Stimson, Emeritus Professor at Imperial College London and co-director of Knowledge-Action-Change (KAC), in a statement issued shortly after the release of the report.
‘The WHO recommendations will do more harm than good, ironically protect cigarette sales, and do little to decrease the avoidable burden of non-communicable diseases.’
What was needed was light touch regulation derived from an appreciation of the trade-offs needed between protecting consumers and not destroying the value that electronic cigarettes offered to smokers who wanted to quit smoking, said Stimson, who was a signatory to a letter addressed to WHO director general Dr. Margaret Chan by 53 leading scientists in May urging the WHO not to treat electronic cigarette regulation in the same manner as traditional tobacco regulation.
‘The WHO position paper appears to have cherry-picked the science, used unnecessary scaremongering and misleading language about the effects of nicotine,’ Stimson added.
‘WHO want to regulate these products as either tobacco products or medicines, but in reality they are neither. They do not contain tobacco and they aren’t used for treating or preventing disease. They are consumer products, and should be governed by consumer protection legislation with specific standards for liquids devices and packaging, and proportionate controls on marketing.’
The report is due to be discussed at the sixth Conference of the Parties to WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control at Moscow on October 13-18, and Stimson made the point that trying to apply to electronic cigarettes a treaty designed to reduce tobacco consumption was completely inappropriate.
The report could – depending on the response of COP6 – make life difficult for the electronic cigarette industry. It says that the main responsibility for proving scientifically claims about ENDS should fall on the shoulders of the industry, but it expresses concern about the involvement in the industry of the major tobacco companies, which are the companies best able to carry out or commission such science. Under the heading, ‘Protection from vested commercial interests’, the report says, in part, that ‘[n]o matter what role the tobacco industry plays in the production, distribution and sale of ENDS, this industry, its allies and front-groups can never be considered to be a legitimate public health partner or stakeholder while it continues to profit from tobacco and its products or represents the interests of the industry’. ‘Article 5.3 of the WHO FCTC should be respected when developing and implementing ENDS legislation and regulations,’ it adds.