Smoke-free or nicotine-free? That’s the question the WHO must consider

Does the World Health Organization (WHO)’s unbending opposition to vaping truly serve the cause of global health? Not everyone thinks so.

The UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Vaping is perhaps not as all-party as it might be, with five of its six members being members of the Conservative Party. Nevertheless, its report on its Inquiry into the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Conference of the Parties 9 (more succinctly known as COP9) states and justifies the country’s position with admirable concision and clarity.

It’s also pretty persuasive, contrasting the UK’s commitment to harm reduction with the WHO’s dogmatic resistance to the argument that vaping, while perhaps not risk-free, is safer than smoking.

As the report states: “In recent years the UK has very successfully integrated vaping into its public health policies on tobacco harm reduction. However, this position is not shared by a number of countries, the [WHO] itself, and the Secretariat to the FCTC. It is clear from leaked papers, official channel social media posts and statements by the Head of the FCTC Secretariat, that the body is looking at treating vaping and reduced-risk products in the same way in which it treats combustible tobacco products.”

It’s an absolutist position taken – or followed – by many countries and subnational jurisdictions around the world. And the evidence, as seen from the UK, suggests it’s a position calculated to do massive harm to health around the world. Exactly the opposite of the WHO’s whole purpose and raison d’etre.


Trump-like threat


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    One might react with a sharp intake of breath to the APPG’s Trump-like suggestion that Britain might cut off its cash support to the WHO if it doesn’t mend its ways – the WHO may have got it wrong on this particular issue but it remains a vital global resource and never more so than right now. But one can understand a certain frustration at what can seem a dogged refusal to differentiate between levels of peril.

    The FCTC’s founding aim is to “protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke [and] to reduce continually and substantially the prevalence of tobacco use and exposure to tobacco smoke”.

    Does it further this aim to equate vaping with smoking? The APPG is clear that it doesn’t.

    Its report states: “The overwhelming cause of death and disease associated with tobacco use comes from smoke inhalation from combustible tobacco.”

    And it concludes by hitting the nail squarely on the head: “The UK [and let’s add the WHO] should remain steadfast in its commitment to a smoke-free nation [let’s make that ‘world’], but this should not be conflated with a ‘nicotine free’ or ‘tobacco free’ objective, which would be counter-productive from a public health perspective.”

    That essential point can seldom have been put more succinctly.

    – Aidan Semmens ECigIntelligence staff

    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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    Aidan Semmens