WHO'll Stop the Reign of E-Cigarettes?

Scientists appeal to World Health Organization to reconsider classification

World Health Organization (WHO) (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores / Tobacco)

LONDON --More than 50 leading scientists from 15 countries have appealed to the World Health Organization (WHO) to reconsider its intention to classify e-cigarettes the same as regular cigarettes, warning that they risk missing an opportunity to drastically reduce smoking.

Ahead of the WHO-sponsored Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) meeting in Moscow in October, the scientists have been reacting to a leaked 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.

"If the WHO gets its way and extinguishes e-cigarettes, it will not only have passed up what is clearly one of the biggest public health innovations of the last three decades that could potentially save millions of lives, but it will have abrogated its own responsibility under its own charter to empower consumers to take control of their own health, something which they are already doing themselves in their millions," said Professor Gerry Stimson, Emeritus Professor at the Imperial College in London, a signatory to the letter and organizer of the upcoming inaugural Global Forum on Nicotine. "E-cigarettes are part of the solution, not the problem."

"For the WHO to suggest that e-cigarettes are as risky as other tobacco products would send an erroneous and bleak message to the millions of current e-cigarette users who have used them to quit smoking," said Robert West, also a signatory to the letter and Professor of Health Psychology & Director of Tobacco Studies at University College in London. "It would discourage smokers from trying them, and we would miss out on a major opportunity to reduce smoke related deaths globally."

The signatories to the letter strongly believe that tobacco harm reduction tools such as e-cigarettes, and other less harmful products such as snus, could be the solution.

"E-cigarette use has been a consumer-led revolution and grown as a bottom-up public health initiative that could save millions of lives," said John Britton, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, U.K. "It has moved at a speed that shows just how much smokers want and will choose nicotine products that don't kill. I hope the WHO and all public health decision makers can recognize and harness the health opportunities that e-cigarettes can provide."

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.

They argue that the WHO's targets for reduction of tobacco consumption should be aligned with the ultimate goal of reducing disease and premature death. It is counterproductive to include the reduction of low-risk nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, within these targets as has been proposed. Instead, these products should have an important role in meeting the targets.