A group of internationally-renowned expert scientists on tobacco- and nicotine-related issues has written an open letter to the WHO s Director-General, Margaret Chan, calling upon her and her organization to avoid suppressing low-risk products that may help smokers quit.
The WHO itself has predicted that, if current trends continue, one-billion lives will be cut short this century due to tobacco. What the WHO, the EU, and indeed our own CDC and other regulators fail to acknowledge is that almost all of those dead and sickened will suffer the effects of cigarette smoking. Other forms of tobacco are about 99 percent less harmful than smoke, especially including snus-type smokeless.
Yet, in a perverse approach to stemming this global catastrophe, the WHO as manifested in its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) treaty ignores the lifesaving potential of reduced-harm products, especially e-cigarettes and related vapor products, while encouraging governments to suppress their uptake and even distort truthful communication about the relative risks of such products compared to cigarettes.
The 53 authors of the letter are European with a few American and Canadian exceptions. ACSH s Dr. Gil Ross participated in the crafting of this letter, but the group elected to include as co-signatories only academics or researchers with published studies. His comment: If leaders of advocacy organizations such as ACSH were included, the signatory list would have become unwieldy and even intimidating. I was happy to contribute in any way, and congratulate the authors for their cogent approach, especially the real father of this missive, UK s Clive Bates, who orchestrated the slow accumulation of opinions from everyone involved without losing its main thrust:
For the WHO to suggest that e-cigarettes are as risky as other tobacco products would send an erroneous and bleak message to the millions of current e-cigarette users who have used them to quit smoking, said Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology and Director of Tobacco Studies at University College in London. It would discourage smokers from trying them and we would miss out on a major opportunity to reduce smoke related deaths globally.
Scientists have known for some years that people 'smoke for the nicotine, but die from the smoke'. The death and disease from smoking arises from the inhalation of tar particles and toxic gases drawn into the lungs.
The signatories to the letter strongly believe that tobacco harm reduction tools such as e-cigarettes, and other less harmful products such as snus, could be the solution. People who currently smoke will do much less harm to their health if they consume nicotine in low-risk, non-combustible form.
E-cigarette use has been a consumer led revolution and grown as a bottom-up public health initiative that could save millions of lives, said John Britton, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, UK. It has moved at a speed that shows just how much smokers want and will choose nicotine products that don t kill. I hope the WHO and all public health decision makers can recognise and harness the health opportunities that e-cigarettes can provide.
The signatories argue that the WHO`s targets for reduction of tobacco consumption should be aligned with the ultimate goal of reducing disease and premature death. It is counterproductive to include the reduction of low-risk nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, within these targets - as WHO has proposed - instead these products should have an important role in meeting the targets.