FCTC delegates warned not to undermine benefits of cigarette alternatives

    Delegates to the World Health Organization’s tobacco meeting inSeoulthis month have been warned that they risk causing harm by not taking account of the benefits offered by some cigarette alternatives.

    According to a TMA report, South Korea’s JoongAng Daily has carried a column by Jeff Stier, senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, DC, who warns that delegates at the 5th Conference of the Parties (CoP5) to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) risk harming smokers by considering bans on less harmful alternatives to cigarettes such as e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. These alternative products have been shown to help smokers quit cigarette smoking.

    Stier made the point that papers prepared by ‘unnamed WHO bureaucrats’ used ‘specious arguments and agenda-driven science’ that departed from the WHO’s original mission to fight tobacco-related harm across the globe and that tried to prohibit some of the least harmful forms of nicotine while letting cigarettes remain legal.

    If WHO’s own analysis has determined that cigarette smoking is the most dangerous but ‘dominant form of tobacco use’, cigarette smoking should be the top target when reducing the harm from tobacco use, Stier was quoted as saying.

    However, the FCTC delegates are now considering bans on lower-risk products, he said.

    Stier urged FCTC parties to consider draft guidance just published by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) in theUK, which says ‘most health problems are almost entirely caused by other components in cigarettes, not by the nicotine’.

    Since nicotine was addictive but was not the harmful component in tobacco, nicotine addiction should not be conflated with tobacco use, Stier said. Recognizing that difference was critical to understanding tobacco harm reduction, he added.

    Meanwhile, according to another TMA report, Clive Bates, the former executive director of Action on Smoking and Health UK and founding member of the Framework Convention Alliance, has warned that the papers prepared by the FCTC Secretariat do not properly consider the role of smokeless tobacco products and electronic nicotine delivery systems as ‘credible alternatives to smoking’ with ‘potential positive health value’ in reducing the burden of smoking-related disease.

    Bates, in an open letter (clivebates.com) to delegates attending the CoP5 meeting on November 12-17, said that strategies to address nicotine addiction had to take real-world behavior into account and ‘use any possible strategy to reduce the harm caused by tobacco’, because a ‘crude “quit or die”’ philosophy’ had no place in a WHO health treaty.

    He wrote also that banning or over-regulating nicotine-containing products that had low risks relative to cigarettes would only result in the FCTC protecting the cigarette market and “unwittingly doing the dirty work of the cigarette industry.”

    Bates says that with a ‘complete abstinence’ approach, many older, often poorer smokers will continue to smoke, and a health treaty should not be denying people addicted to nicotine access to products that reduce health risks.