Can e-cigarettes help reduce tobacco use? WHO needs more vaping data to find out

Not enough countries collect data on e-cigarette usage and it’s necessary to improve this to better monitor reduction in tobacco use, says the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO partly addressed e-cigarettes in its WHO global report on trends in prevalence of tobacco use 2000–2030. It excluded vapes from the majority of its statistics on tobacco use, considering them to be a non-tobacco product.

But it has started to separately monitor the rise of e-cigarettes, with national surveys on usage going back to 2013. By 2022, 70 countries had nationally representative data available, which was enough to give relatively robust estimates for prevalence in the Americas, Europe and the Western Pacific. However, without the other regions, the WHO felt it was not possible to calculate global estimates.

It was a similar story for youth use as well, with more countries starting to include questions on vaping in youth surveys but not enough to yet deliver robust estimates.

This, in particular, was a cause for concern. The WHO said the surveys it did receive showed children aged 13 to 15 could acquire products for their own use. Results also indicated that, while more restrictive regulations did help reduce the chance adolescents reported current e-cigarette use, there were still long-term addiction and health concerns for the remaining minority.


Tobacco use falling, but not quickly enough


That being said, the report also showed that overall global tobacco use continued to fall consistently year-on-year. Interestingly, there didn’t seem to be much of an impact from vaping in the years since vaping became widespread, with little variation in the drop in prevalence from 2000 to 2022.

The global entity says around one in five people are tobacco users as of 2022, down from one in three in 2000 (though it should be noted that its 2022 data is currently only based on five surveys in total, with more expected to be added in the next iteration).

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    In terms of total numbers, it estimates this means around 1.245bn people are current tobacco users – down from 1.36bn in 2000. Overall, almost all countries are seeing reductions in tobacco use, with only Congo, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Oman and Moldova bucking the trend.

    However, the WHO estimates the falls being experienced globally will still leave it short of its goal of a 30% reduction from a 2010 baseline by 2025. It now believes only 56 individual countries will reach this target, down from 60 since the last report in 2021.


    Most European countries unlikely to hit reduction target


    Arguably, looking at the numbers, this could be down to some regions having already achieved significant reductions in tobacco use by 2010. Of the 56 likely to make the target, the highest number come from the African region (22 expected to achieve the goal out of 47 assessed), which would have been behind in tobacco control overall in 2010 and thus would have easier gains to make to help it achieve a 30% relative reduction.

    Supporting this, the European region – where many countries would have already taken strong tobacco control measures by 2010 – will see the greatest number of countries likely to achieve a decrease in prevalence lower than the 30% target (34 of 53, compared with 11 that will achieve the 30% goal).

    Discussions will take place on what more can be done to accelerate reductions, and perhaps save the target, at the upcoming COP10 – the tenth Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – in Panama.

    – Freddie Dawson ECigIntelligence staff

    Photo: Vince Fleming

    Freddie Dawson

    Senior news editor
    Freddie studied at King’s College, London and City University and worked for publications including The Times, The Malay Mail, PathfinderBuzz and Solar Summary before joining the ECigIntelligence team. He has extensive experience in covering fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), manufacturing and technological innovation.