‘Nicotine is highly addictive. Electronic nicotine delivery systems are harmful, and must be better regulated’
Electronic cigarettes have been called “harmful” by the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who also warned that their use should be better regulated to protect children and teenagers.
The WHO has suggested that governments need to prevent “renormalising smoking behaviour” and should bring in measures to prevent non-smokers from starting to use e-cigarettes, amid fears that the array of different flavours and colours could “hook children on nicotine.”
E-cigarettes and vape pens simulate the sensation of smoking, without actually smoking a cigarette but the WHO has warned that they may act as a “gateway” into consumption of tobacco.
The global health organisation said a review had recently found children and adolescents using e-cigarettes are more than twice as likely to use conventional cigarettes later on.
Currently, the sale of e-cigarette products to under-18s is banned in the UK, however, a recent report on vaping found that enforcement of age-of-sale regulations needs to be improved, both for vaping and for smoking.
The report was published by Public Health England (PHE) in February and found that levels of vaping in recent years had not significantly changed. The report found that in March 2020, 4.8 per cent of young people aged 11-18 vaped at least once a month.
One fifth of the young people who said they had tried vaping said they had done so before they smoked. Meanwhile 28.9 per cent admitted to having tried a vaping product without having tried smoking, according to PHE.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general said: “Nicotine is highly addictive. Electronic nicotine delivery systems are harmful, and must be better regulated.
“Where they are not banned, governments should adopt appropriate policies to protect their populations from the harms of electronic nicotine delivery systems, and to prevent their uptake by children, adolescents and other vulnerable groups.”
In the WHO report which came out on Tuesday, Dr Tedros underlined how electronic devices were being “promoted aggressively as ‘safer’ or ‘smoke-free’ alternatives to cigarettes.” He went on to add that the tobacco and related industries are using “the same old marketing tactics to promote new tools to hook children on nicotine and circumvent tobacco legislation”.
Dr Adriana Blanco Marquizo, head of secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) said that increased research into possible effects of e-cigarettes is needed.
She explained: “Until independent research shows the real risk profile of these products, governments should be cautious. Science-based evidence, not marketing, should guide their actions.”
However, Professor John Britton said that the WHO did not comprehend the “fundamental difference” between being addicted to tobacco and being addicted to nicotine.
The emeritus Professor of Epidemiology at University of Nottingham, said: “This report demonstrates that, sadly, the WHO still doesn’t understand the fundamental difference between addiction to tobacco smoking, which kills millions of people every year, and addiction to nicotine, which doesn’t.
“The WHO is also evidently still content with the hypocrisy of adopting a position which recommends the use of medicinal nicotine products to treat addiction to smoking, but advocates prohibition of consumer nicotine products which do the same thing, but better.
“The WHO is right that non-smokers, especially children, should be discouraged from using any nicotine product. But for the more than one billion tobacco smokers in the world, electronic nicotine delivery systems are part of the solution, not the problem.”
Meanwhile the president of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, Dr Derek Yach, said that the WHO’s approach to tobacco control was “fundamentally flawed”.
He explained: “The exceptional growth of next generation devices offers the WHO a real opportunity to tackle combustible consumption once and for all. Over 100 million ex-smokers use reduced-risk products and the WHO should be taking advantage of massive investment in the sector by encouraging governments to provide an incentivised regulatory framework to enable greater expansion.”
The WHO said that 5.3 billion people and three quarters of countries are currently protected by at least one tobacco control measure, while 50 per cent of countries have at least two measures in place.
The organisation pointed out that worldwide smoking prevalence among people aged over 15 years had fallen, which it called “encouraging progress.”