So you may or may not be aware of the controversy surrounding the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest report on e-cigarettes. Whether you’re up to speed or not, read on to find out what caused Dr Christian Jessen to brandish WHO as ‘irresponsible, misleading and scaremongering.’
What’s all the fuss about?
The World Health Organization (WHO) is assigned with the task to save lives and prevent disease, yet their stance on e-cigarettes has caused many industry professionals to stand up in opposition to their latest proposals. So what could the WHO have said that’s caused so much controversy? Well, in short WHO have called for e-cigarettes to be banned for indoor use in public and work places whilst calling for the sale of flavoured e-liquids to be prohibited. The contentious report also made the unsubstantiated assertion that e-cigarettes MIGHT, yes MIGHT pose a threat to teenagers and pregnant women. Since the report was released many health experts and vapers all of over the world have spoken out against what they see as a flawed and potentially harmful argument – none more so than Clive Bates.
Why flavoured e-liquids are NOT to blame
In typical alarmist fashion the WHO report on e-cigs focussed on the draw of e-cigarettes, and in particular flavoured e-liquids, as a pathway to cigarettes for young people. However studies have shown that it is actually adult users that buy the flavoured e-liquid and not young people. The popularity of these flavours in comparison to tobacco flavoured e-liquids amongst adults should not be overlooked – in a study of 10’000 adult vapers on ECigaretteForum, the results indicated that 30.55% preferred vaping with fruit flavours, making it the most popular e-liquid. In fact, tobacco flavoured e-liquids make up only 25.5%, just over one quarter of the adult vapers surveyed in this study. So what’s the danger of banning these flavours? As with any banned substances, banning them from regulated sale does not stop people producing and buying the product. The selling of flavours would be pushed onto the black market where stock cannot be regulated by qualified pharmacologists ensuring they are pure and safe.
Vaping indoors: what’s the risk?
So, as it stands vapers can freely vape indoors without fear of sanction, but if the WHO has it their way, vapers will be thrust outside in the freezing cold to congregate with conventional nicotine- smoking addicts and inhale the harmful tobacco smoke they are likely trying to avoid by choosing to vape in the first place. A professional study conducted for the Oxford Journal: Nictotine and Tobacco Research, shows that second hand exposure from vaping may expose those around them to very low levels of nicotine but not toxic tobacco-specific combustion products. With such small levels of nicotine proven to be virtually harmless why have the WHO called for such extreme measures? Well again, they allude to the lack of long term research on the effects of exposure to pregnant women, teenagers and those with cardiovascular issues.
What do the professionals say?
Critics of the WHO have alluded to the selective nature of their arguments and the lack of evidence to support their claims. The WHO’s focus on the appeal of e-cigs to teenagers and young people as a gateway to tobacco smoking is something that has been widely refuted. Evidence from ASH UK’s 2014 report showed ‘Among children, current electronic cigarette use is confined almost entirely to those who have already tried smoking.’
The idea that e-cigarettes are ‘normalising’ smoking for young people has been exacerbated by a general ignorance and panic towards the flavours and terminology surrounding e-cigs. The general assumption is that e-cigs are increasingly being marketed towards children. Anti e-cigarette articles refer to shops stocked with ‘hip-looking tech-y devices in iridescent colours with flavours like maple pancakes and vanilla cupcake’ as a draw for young people. Theories such as these fail to acknowledge the popularity of these products with adults.
Dr. Gil Ross had this comment: “In the UK, vapers have taken to vaping quite enthusiastically, the goal being to escape from smoking. Even though many both smoke and vape, the health benefits of reducing your cigarette consumption is also to be desired. And the teen data confirm what our own CDC knows but refuses to divulge: teens who do not smoke yet are attracted to e-cigs are few and far between, a fact that should be drummed into the heads of our own politicians who seek to ban them ‘for the sake of the children.’”
The WHO report also called for no further claims to be made that the devices can help smokers quit until there is ‘convincing supporting scientific evidence’. Well, according to a study from the University College London, People in the UK attempting to quit smoking without professional help are approximately 60% more likely to report succeeding if they use e-cigarettes than if they use willpower alone or over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies (NRT), such as patches or gum.
So where does that leave us?
OK, so we cannot categorically say that e-cigarettes are 100% safe as there is simply not enough research and the products used are still relatively new, but what we do know is that they are far less harmful than their tobacco alternative and there is evidence that they benefit people who are looking to quit smoking. Surely the greater number of people moving away from smoking tobacco in favour of safer methods of obtaining nicotine can only be a positive? According to Clive Bates banning e-cigarettes and diminishing their usage:
‘May end up throttling an incredibly important ‘insurgent’ industry with the potential over time to transform the cigarette market. According to the WHO, one billion deaths are likely from tobacco in the 21st Century. Public health experts need to get used to the idea that changing markets for nicotine to much less dangerous products could dramatically reduce this awful toll.’
Rather than focus on the huge potential e-cigarettes have to stop people smoking tobacco and ultimately save lives, the WHO have instead drawn on the ambiguity and lack of long term research that surrounds e-cigarettes. Let’s get one thing absolutely straight: cigarettes kill, tobacco smoking accounts for the largest number of preventable deaths in the UK. Surely the life saving potential of e-cigarettes should be harnessed and developed by governing bodies like the WHO rather than stifled by regulatory conditions that don’t exist with cigarettes?
OK, so why would WHO release such a report?
Perhaps the WHO has an ulterior motive or a hidden agenda?
I couldn’t possibly comment on this so I will leave you to consider what this may be. Oh but in case you didn’t know tax revenue from tobacco in 2012/13 was £12.3 billion with consumer spending on tobacco an estimated £15.1 billion….just something to consider!
Let us know what you think about the WHO’s report by leaving a comment or @CigElectric!