• April 17, 2024

WHO Announcement Provokes Backlash

 WHO Announcement Provokes Backlash
Photo: Maksym Yemelyanov

Tobacco harm reduction advocates have vehemently criticized the World Health Organization’s call to crack down on e-cigarettes.

On Dec. 14, the global health body issued a statement urging action to prevent the uptake of e-cigarettes and counter nicotine addiction. On the same day, it released a technical note with detailed information on the evidence and factors underpinning its guidance.

“E-cigarettes as consumer products are not shown to be effective for quitting tobacco use at the population level,” the WHO wrote. “Instead, alarming evidence has emerged on adverse population health effects.”

In its announcement, the WHO described e-cigarettes with nicotine as highly addictive and harmful to health. “Whilst long-term health effects are not fully understood, it has been established that they generate toxic substances, some of which are known to cause cancer and some that increase the risk of heart and lung disorders,” the organization wrote.

“Use of e-cigarettes can also affect brain development and lead to learning disorders for young people. Fetal exposure to e-cigarettes can adversely affect the development of the fetus in pregnant women. Exposure to emissions from e-cigarettes also poses risks to bystanders.”

To address the impact of e-cigarettes, the WHO encouraged national governments to ban vape flavors, limit the concentration of nicotine, and tax e-cigarettes.

Tobacco harm reduction activists were aghast. “The WHO’s latest stance on vaping flavors is not just misguided, it’s dangerously out of touch with scientific reality,” wrote Michael Landl, director of the World Vapers’ Alliance, in a statement.

“By pushing for a blanket ban, the WHO blatantly disregards a wealth of scientific evidence that underscores the benefits of vaping when compared to alternatives. Flavored e-cigarettes have been proven to increase the chances of successful smoking cessation by 230 percent compared to non-flavored alternatives. It’s appalling to see such a pivotal public health tool being dismissed by an organization that should be at the forefront of harm reduction.”

The WHO’s attack on vaping is both inaccurate and misleading and will further discourage smokers from making the life-changing decision to quit.

John Dunne, director general, UKVIA

The U.K. Vaping Industry Association said the WHO announcement was based on discredited research and predicted that the measures would be “disastrous” for public health.

“The WHO’s attack on vaping is both inaccurate and misleading and will further discourage smokers from making the life-changing decision to quit,” said UKVIA Director General John Dunne in a statement. “Vapes are 95 percent less harmful than cigarettes and are responsible for an accelerated drop in smoking in the U.K. in the past decade.”

“The WHO’s criticism of vaping is based on discredited research and implying that vaping is in some way proven to be cancer-causing is wholly misleading, as is the claim that it harms brain development in young people, a scare story that is simply not true.

“Banning flavored vapes would lead to more smokers and more smoking deaths. Indeed, 80 percent of vapers consider the availability of flavors to be a significant part of their quitting journey, according to One Poll in March 2023. 24 percent of respondents said that banning flavors would likely lead them to revert to smoking, potentially affecting over 1.1 million individuals in the UK.

“Restricting adult access to vapes has had disastrous consequences around the world, such as in Australia, where it has resulted in a massive unregulated black market and a boost to smoking rates.”

Earlier this month, tobacco harm reduction specialists raised concern about the FCTC’s direction of travel in a special report published by Forniche.