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WHO’s latest tobacco report – an ‘epic fail’ for public health

Asia Pacific’s leading tobacco harm reduction advocacy group, CAPHRA, is deeply disturbed by the World Health Organisation’s recently released ‘Tobacco Product Regulation Report’. It says WHO’s negative and obstructive approach towards safer nicotine vaping products continues to impact smoking cessation rates, costing lives globally.

“Good public health policy reduces the threats and harms to the public. It does not create them, or introduce confusion, yet that’s exactly what WHO seems determined to do,” says Nancy Loucas, Executive Coordinator of the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA).

“Once again WHO is pushing for smoking and nicotine vaping to be regulated as one, when the two couldn’t be further apart. One has an up to 50% chance of killing its users while the other has a less than a 10% chance of causing any harm,” says Ms Loucas.

WHO’s report recommends taking ‘a panoramic view of all nicotine and tobacco product use’. It argues for global consistency when it comes to the likes of flavour availability saying regulation should be the same across all nicotine and tobacco products, rather than applied individually. The report also promotes achieving ‘the ultimate objective of nicotine and tobacco-free future generations.’

“Nicotine is not a problem or a killer but ridding us of it remains a WHO priority. What about squarely focusing on combustible tobacco instead? After all, it’s the inhalation of toxic smoke that kills eight million people every year. That’s the real enemy, yet WHO takes aim at the world’s most effective smoking cessation tool – vaping!”

WHO acknowledges ‘ENDs (electronic nicotine delivery systems) that deliver nicotine effectively might help some smokers to quit combustible smoking, with positive public health effects.’ However, CAPHRA is frustrated with its following claim that ‘most of these individuals, however, continue to use ENDS, with uncertain individual health consequences and thus an uncertain public health impact.’

“WHO continues to ignore numerous independent and peer-reviewed scientific studies supporting vaping as a much safer alternative to deadly cigarettes. Public Health England, for example, stands firmly behind its 2018 review, which concluded that ‘e-cigarettes are around 95% safer than combustible cigarettes,’” says Ms Loucas.

She says the study group in WHO’s report recommends bans on all aspects of vaping that are the cornerstone of its effectiveness – recommendations not based on scientific evidence but on theories – some of which have already been clearly disproven.

“These latest WHO policy recommendations do nothing to enable elected representatives, or the general public, to make informed decisions. This is a public health fail of epic proportions, particularly when we know many smokers have opted not to switch to a safer alternative while some vapers have returned to smoking because of the ongoing confusion WHO stirs up,” she says.

Ms Loucas says several esteemed public health experts are also concerned with WHO’s approach, including former director of the American Cancer Society, Cliff Douglas, and former head of ASH UK, Clive Bates. They say WHO, and those public health experts and policymakers who follow their advice, have moved away from evidence-based guidance and policy when it comes to tobacco harm reduction.

“CAPHRA is keen to reinforce that guidance in this latest report is sadly not given in the best interests of public health. To make the best decisions around tobacco harm reduction and safer nicotine products, we strongly urge elected representatives and health officials to demand objective and current scientific evidence,” says Nancy Loucas.

Consumer groups in the Asia-Pacific region have launched a petition that urges the World Health Organisation (WHO) to respect consumer rights ahead of the next biennial meeting of the WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) in November. Please sign and share the petition at change.org/v4v-petition

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