WHO Won’t Back down on Vaping

WHO Won’t Back down on Vaping Even as Rising Number of Health Bodies Support E-Cigarettes

More people are using e-cigarettes to quit smoking and a growing number of medical organisations are backing the move, yet the World Health Organization (WHO) still refuses to support vaping — and it’s not likely to change its mind anytime soon, according to an interview with a leading vaping website.

“We do not recommend the use of vaping products — or any other smoking product — but the use of licensed and recommended forms of nicotine to help adult smokers quit smoking,” the global health body’s Tobacco Control Programme chief, Vinayak Prasad, told Electric Tobacconist USA.

“The existing body of scientific evidence regarding the effectiveness of [vaping] as a smoking cessation aid is scant and of low certainty,” he said.

Prominent health and medical bodies around the world — notably in the United Kingdom — would likely not be amused at their recent and extensive studies into the use of e-cigarettes being brushed off and called “low certainty”. And indeed, there is a growing amount of scientific evidence into vaping and most of it has found that it’s far better than smoking for people’s health.

Smoking’s Grim Global Toll

The WHO tells us that tobacco claims around seven million lives globally every year, and close to one million of those needlessly lost lives are people who inhaled secondhand smoke and went on to develop a tobacco-related disease. Smoking is the leading cause of preventative death around the world and many governments are racing to try to get their populations off tobacco in the coming years and go smoke-free.

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They rely on in-depth research into vaping, as has been carried out by organisations including:

  • Public Health England

In 2015, Public Health England supported vaping as a way to quit smoking. In early 2018, it issued an update on its advisory, carried out by top independent tobacco experts. Among its findings are that “vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys substantial health benefits;” that “e-cigarettes could be contributing to at least 20,000 successful new quits per year and possibly many more;” and “e-cigarette use is associated with improved quit success rates over the last year and an accelerated drop in smoking rates across the country.”

  • The Royal College of Physicians

Doctors at one of the oldest and most prestigious medical institutions in the world carried out their own research into vaping and “concluded that e-cigarettes are likely to be beneficial to UK public health. Smokers can therefore be reassured and encouraged to use them and the public can be reassured that e-cigarettes are much safer than smoking.” They also found that “[e]-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking” and they “do not result in normalisation of smoking.”

  • Cancer Research UK

Scientists undertook a long-term vaping study for Britain’s top cancer research organisation to determine if there were any health risks. They found that “[e]-cigarettes are less toxic and safer to use compared to conventional cigarettes”. They said: “Ex-smokers who switched to e-cigarettes or [nicotine replacement therapy] had significantly lower levels of toxic chemicals and carcinogens in their body compared to people who continued to smoke tobacco cigarettes.” Cancer Research UK said: “This study adds to growing evidence that e-cigarettes are a much safer alternative to tobacco and suggests the long-term effects of these products will be minimal.”

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WHO’s Controversial Stance on Vaping

Given all the emerging scientific evidence into vaping that shows it’s far better than smoking — and that it certainly doesn’t contain the many thousands of toxic chemicals found in burning tobacco — some have criticized the WHO for its position and refusal to support e-cigarettes. Many countries, especially in developing parts of the world, have banned vaping and even imposed lengthy prison terms for anyone caught with vaping gear, based on the WHO’s vaping advisory.

Meanwhile, millions of people in those countries continue to smoke cigarettes and put their health at risk. In countries like Indonesia — the world’s fourth most populated nation, with 261 million people — the government has been cracking down on vaping, while it remains one of the most sustained and aggressive tobacco advertising environments anywhere, exposed even to children.

But as vaping startups, such as the wildly popular Juul, enter the global market with the goal of helping people to stop smoking and become far healthier, it may only be a matter of time before the WHO accepts the growing reality that e-cigarettes do help people to stub out smoking, and changes its mind.