World Health Organisation slammed in open letter for ‘anti-vape’ stance contributing to ‘millions’ of deaths
The WHO has been slammed in an open letter from experts around the globe for cautioning young people against using vaping products as an alternative to conventional cigarettes.
n open letter drafted by 100 experts has berated the World Health Organisation for its strong stance against vaping products, claiming the global health body’s unwillingness to endorse the smoke-free products has contributed to “millions of smoke-related deaths”.
Addressed to Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control ahead of a meeting next month on tobacco control during a global health crisis, the letter urges members to take a “more questioning and assertive approach to the WHO’s advocacy on smoke-free alternative to smoking”.
The WHO FCTC treaty, in place since 2004, boasts 168 signatories – including the European Union – making it one of the United Nations’ most widely embraced treaties.
The letter informs the Parties there is “compelling evidence smoke-free products are much less harmful than cigarettes and that they can displace smoking for individuals and at the population level”.
The WHO has been slammed for its strong stance against endorsing vape products as an alternative to smoking cigarettes. Picture: Getty Images
It further rebukes the WHO for “rejecting a public health strategy that could avoid millions of smoke-related deaths”.
“Regrettably, WHO has been dismissive of the potential to transform the tobacco market from high-risk to low-risk products.”
The written appeal highlighted seven key points:
- Tobacco harm reduction presents significant public health opportunities
- E-cigarettes are a driver of smoke cessation
- Tobacco harm reduction can contribute to Sustainable Development Goals
- Major regulatory assessments experience support heated tobacco products
- Policymakers must recognise unintended consequences of policy proposals
- Place adolescent ENDS use in proper context
- There is public health support for harm reduction in tobacco control
“We believe it is time for global tobacco policy to draw on the full potential of tobacco harm reduction. We hope the public health science, policy and practitioner communities will converge on a common purpose to meet the SDGs and to reduce the global burden of tobacco-related disease and premature mortality as quickly and deeply as possible,” the letter concluded.
The WHO’s report on the global tobacco epidemic – published in July this year – warned, however, while the long-term health impacts of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) were unknown “there is growing evidence to demonstrate these products are not harmless”.
“Nicotine is highly addictive. A non-smoker who uses ENDS may become addicted to nicotine and find it difficult to stop using ENDS and/or become addicted to conventional tobacco products,” the report read.
The World Health Organisation warned in a July 2021 report studies indicate electronic nicotine delivery systems may have harmful long-term impacts on users.
It further noted marketing for ENDS products, such as vapes, often targeted young people.
The WHO report warned nicotine addictions usually take hold in adolescence “creating a very real risk of young users becoming nicotine dependent”.
“Young people who experiment with ENDS are two to three times as likely to progress to regular use of conventional cigarettes than those who are not.”
Several signatories to the open letter published their own statements on the use of smoke-free products to help smokers move away from cigarettes, including Professor David Nutt from the Imperial College of London who likened the impact of smoking to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Smoking causes a massive burden of death and disease worldwide, killing about eight million people annually and so on as similar scale to the COVID pandemic so far,” he said.
Professor Nutt highlighted there were now smoke-free alternatives to cigarettes for which there is “no real scientific doubt” that they are safer smoking.
“And yet the World Health Organisation has dug in against vaping and the other alternatives and is throwing every possible obstacle in the way. WHO continues to insist that smokers should just stop, even though we know millions of smokers will not do that and millions will continue to take up the habit.”