Wednesday, December 01, 2010

World Health Organization Wants Electronic Cigarettes Taken Off the Market; Does Not Consider Them Legitimate Tool for Smoking Cessation

The Conference of the Parties to the World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control does not believe there is evidence that smoking cigarettes is any more dangerous than using electronic cigarettes, wants these devices taken off the market, and does not consider them to be a legitimate way to quit smoking, according to its report on electronic nicotine delivery systems.

The report concluded that "Claims that these products have health benefits, reduce harm, or can be used to aid smoking cessation should be prohibited until they are scientifically proven." This means the World Health Organization does not believe there is evidence at the present time that electronic cigarettes are any safer than regular cigarettes. Which is another way of saying that WHO does not believe there is evidence to support the assertion that smoking is any more dangerous than vaping.

The report also demanded that e-cigarette manufacturers prove the safety and efficacy of these devices through clinical trials prior to the approval of these products, meaning that electronic cigarettes would have to be taken off the market (at least in the United States) and would most likely never again see the light of day (given the cost and time it takes to obtain approval of new drugs or devices).

Furthermore, the report makes it clear that WHO does not consider quitting smoking via electronic cigarettes to be a legitimate form of smoking cessation. This reaffirms an earlier WHO statement that "the World Health Organization (WHO) does not consider it [electronic cigarettes] to be a legitimate therapy for smokers trying to quit."

The Rest of the Story

The World Health Organization's report reflects a political and ideological, rather than a science-based approach to the issue of harm reduction in tobacco control.

The WHO's insinuation that smoking may be no more dangerous than vaping (which involves no use of any tobacco product) is ridiculous, contrary to strong existing evidence, and dangerous, as it completely undermines the public's appreciation of the serious hazards of cigarette smoking.

There are many studies which have documented that electronic cigarettes deliver much lower levels of carcinogens to users, on the order of about a 1400-times decrease compared to regular cigarettes. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is going to significantly reduce the cancer risk that a smoker would otherwise face. Given the overwhelming epidemiologic evidence of the morbidity and mortality caused by cigarettes, and the lack of any reported serious adverse effects of electronic cigarettes, combined with the toxicological data from the extensive laboratory studies, it is difficult to understand how the WHO could argue that cigarette smoking may be no more hazardous than the use of electronic cigarettes.

While the WHO may consider electronic cigarettes not to be a legitimate form of smoking cessation, it should try telling that to the thousands of ex-smokers who are now much healthier than when they smoked, due to the use of electronic cigarettes, which they found to be the only effective method for helping them to quit.

Taking electronic cigarettes off the market would cause harm to thousands of ex-smokers who would be forced to return to far more hazardous cigarette smoking.

I truly believe that the WHO is blinded by an ideology that views the very act of doing something that looks like smoking as evil, regardless of its actual safety. Electronic cigarettes could potentially save millions of lives throughout the world, since they appear to be much safer than cigarettes and to be an effective tool for smoking cessation among long-time smokers who have been unsuccessful quitting after multiple attempts with traditional nicotine replacement products or other pharmaceutical aids.

The WHO's policy and actions are helping to protect tobacco company profits at the expense of the public's health, by ensuring that smokers will continue to buy tobacco products rather than to quit smoking via the use of electronic cigarettes, and by helping to encourage vapers to return to cigarette smoking because of the unsubstantiated claim that they have done nothing to improve their health by quitting smoking with the use of electronic cigarettes.

I thought the FCTC was supposed to be about standing up to Big Tobacco and reducing tobacco use, rather than helping to sustain tobacco company profits by discouraging people from quitting smoking. What I guess I discounted was the powerful ideology in tobacco control that demands a quit or die attitude, shuns any form of harm reduction, and cannot tolerate even the thought that an action which resembles that of smoking a cigarette could be encouraged, even if it produces immediate health benefits and will save countless lives in the future.

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