‘Historic decisions’ on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products absent at COP10

The tenth Conference of the Parties (COP10) to the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) was to be the conference where countries finally got to grips with emerging alternative tobacco products, leading many involved with harm reduction to worry that severe restrictions would be recommended.

The WHO FCTC touted the adoption of “historic decisions” that would impact the global industry at the COP10 conference held in Panama last month. But the Convention Secretariat told ECigIngelligence: “There were no standalone decisions made at [COP10] regarding heated tobacco products (HTPs) or electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems (ENDS and ENNDS) – sometimes referred to as electronic cigarettes – or the industries that produce such products.”

In the wake of the conference, the WHO FCTC issued a statement explaining that during COP10, a decision was made to implement Article 18, which addresses the impact of the tobacco industry on the environment. The organisation said that the event “concluded with a far-reaching decision that will protect the environment and the health of people throughout the world from the ravages of tobacco”.

It added that the 142 parties present were urged to “take account of the environmental impacts from the cultivation, manufacture, consumption and waste disposal of tobacco products, and to strengthen the implementation of this article, including through national policies related to tobacco and protection of the environment”.

The nebulous phrasing of the statement raised questions among international tobacco-alternative and harm-reduction advocacy groups – many of whom were excluded from attending COP10 – as to how or if the decisions adopted would impact the industry.


Wondering how decisions could affect those excluded


Carmen Escrig, a doctor and advocate for tobacco harm reduction, said: “The consequences that the COP10 decisions will have on the industry simply cannot be known, given that the behaviour of the organisers excluded so many industry members from participating.

“Debate is a dogma in science, and by excluding participants, it allows for decisions to be made without hearing the perspectives of all sides, such as scientific evidence that supports tobacco harm reduction.”

The Convention Secretariat told ECigIntelligence that several decisions made at COP10 “made direct or indirect reference to new and emerging tobacco and nicotine products, including HTPs and ENDS/ENNDS, and to the industries that produce such products”, but that no new international commitments were made that directly or immediately impact the e-cigarette or heated tobacco sectors.

The group went on to say that decisions made at previous COP conferences “remain relevant” as they apply to e-cigarettes and HTPs, including the previous decision to recognise HTPs as tobacco products, making them subject to the provisions of the WHO FCTC, as well as the encouragement of member nations to implement regulation “to prohibit or restrict the manufacture, importation, distribution, presentation, sale and use of ENDS/ENNDS as appropriate to their national laws and public health objectives”.

In Panama, as well as in Mexico and Venezuela, legislation has been passed in recent years to prohibit nationwide sales, distribution and use of e-cigarettes and vapes.


The article on the environment


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    On 30th June 2022, Panama passed law 315, which prohibits the use, import and sale of ENDS, e-cigarettes, vapes, heated tobacco devices and similar devices with and without nicotine in the country. Among a series of restrictions, the law prohibits consumption in all forms, and orders tobacco-related businesses to hang a visible sign on the exterior of their operations that details the ban of ENDS, e-cigs and vapes.

    The Central American nation’s Supreme Court is expected to rule this year on a lawsuit filed by the Panamanian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association in 2023 that claims the way the country’s ban on e-cigs and heated tobacco was legislatively approved is unconstitutional. If the Supreme Court was to rule in the Association’s favour, the law would be declared unconstitutional and the ban overturned.

    While much of Article 18 focuses on the reduction of cigarette filters and the environmental damage they cause, it also alludes to the pollution of soil and water by “related electronic devices, including filters of cigarettes as well as batteries, plastic cartridges and metals”.

    The decision urges member nations to consider the implementation of policies that regulate the waste generated by electronic devices, “taking into consideration their public health impacts in accordance with national law”, as well as international treaties dealing with plastics and hazardous waste.

    This language raised questions among members of the tobacco alternatives industry who wondered how the decision might affect regulatory policies that apply to the disposal of alternative tobacco devices.


    Expert groups from COP10 to present recommendations at COP11


    The Convention Secretariat referred ECigIntelligence’s questions to a brochure developed by the WHO for World No Tobacco Day 2022.

    In the brochure, the WHO refers to the “growing concern” of environmental damage caused by the disposal of e-cigarettes, vapes and HTPs, given that the “majority of plastic e-cigarette liquid cartridges are not reusable or recyclable and end up in gutters, streets and waterways”.

    In a section of the brochure labelled “Call to Action”, the WHO encourages the support of policy action by member nations to ban single-use plastics, which include cigarette filters, smokeless tobacco pouches and disposable ENDS.

    While the Convention Secretariat explained that no immediate decisions were made regarding e-cigarettes, vapes or heated tobacco, the language included in Article 18 is the most threatening in terms of future regulation as it applies to the industry and possible future policies.

    At the conclusion of COP10, the WHO FCTC explained that two expert groups were established – one to work on forward-looking tobacco-control measures under Article 2.1 of the WHO FCTC, and the other to focus on Article 19, which concerns liability policies.

    Delegates at the conference assigned to the working groups are expected to present their future recommendations for e-cigarette, vape and heated tobacco policies at the COP11 conference, scheduled to be held in 2026.

    – Adam Williams ECigIntelligence contributing writer

    Photo: Tyler Callahan

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    This article was written by one of ECigIntelligence’s international correspondents. We currently employ more than 40 reporters around the world to cover individual vaping markets. For a full list, please see our Who We Are page.

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