Public health specialists call for WHO to see e-cigarettes as a solution

Nicotine Policy reports:

Over 50 leading scientists from 15 countries have written to Margaret Chan Director-General of the World Health Organization to ask WHO reconsider its intention to classify e-cigarettes the same as regular cigarettes, warning that they risk missing an opportunity to drastically reduce and the illness and death associated with it.

Ahead of the WHO sponsored Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) meeting in Moscow this October, the scientists have reacted to aleaked document from a FCTC preparatory meeting indicating that the WHO considers e-cigarettes a “threat” to public health and intends to sideline their use as an accessible alternative to regular tobacco and cigarettes. Snus is already included in the FCTC.

In their letter to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, the 53 signatories argue that tobacco harm reduction products could play a significant role in meeting the 2025 UN objectives to reduce non-communicable diseases. E-cigarettes and other safer nicotine products are part of the solution, not part of the problem, they say.

This is an incredibly significant letter. The signatories to the letter (includes two NZers) are all highly respected specialists in public health and anti-smoking policy.

Anti-smoking activists tend to fall into two categories. Some, like the letter signatories, are focused entirely on reducing harm from smoking. They want (as I do) to have fewer people smoking, and getting lung cancer and other diseases from smoking.

The other category of activists focus on trying to damage the companies that sell the products they don’t like – whether it be tobacco, fast food, soft drinks, alcohol or whatever. They like, for example, plain packaging, because it may hurt companies they don’t like – even if there is no evidence it reduces smoking rates.

So this group of specialists is telling the WHO that it would be a very bad mistake to treat e-cigarettes the same as tobacco. They are an alternative product that causes far less harm and can get people off tobacco.

Ironically in New Zealand, e-cigarettes are currently banned.

As I said, the letter from the public health specialists is very significant. The two NZ signatories are Dr Murray Laugeson and Associate Professor Chris Bullen (Director, National Institute for Health Innovation, University of Auckland). Dr Laugeson is spent 18 years as the principal medical officer for the Ministry of Health and his CV states he is NZ’s most experienced researcher on smoking policy and cigarettes.

Perhaps the Government would do better to look at allowing e-cigarettes, as promoted by the signatories, rather than pursing measures that have not been found to be effective?

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