A scathing new editorial published in The Huftington Post criticized the World Health Organization for its stand to regulate or possibly even ban e-cigarettes despite strong evidence that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than tobacco and have the potential to help smokers quit smoking.
“Over-regulating e-cigarettes will cause people to stick with conventional cigarettes instead of switching to reduced-risk products. This will cause unnecessary damage and serious risk to people’s health, not improve it. This is perverse and closed-mind thinking from WHO, and is symptomatic of the lack of direction and leadership in the organization,” wrote David Williams, President of Taxpayers Protection Alliance, a US-based non-profit, educational and advocacy organization that informs the public through research and analysis.
William’s scornful view of the WHO’s position on e-cigarettes is shared by Mark Pawsey, Member of the UK Parliament and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary E-Cigarettes Group. “E-cigarettes are helping millions of people to stop smoking,” Pawsey said. “So I find it inexplicable that the World Health Organization is threatening to ban them”.
The UK Parliament created the All-Party Parliamentary E-Cigarettes Group to explore the most appropriate parliamentary and regulatory response to e-cigarettes and to raise education and literacy among policy makers regarding e-cigarettes and related public policy questions.
In his editorial, Williams called out WHO Director-General Margaret Chan for the “sweepingly irresponsible and incomprehensible statement” she made last year at the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi. In front of the world’s largest gathering of tobacco control advocates, policy-makers, researchers, public health and clinical experts, Chan had stated that “all governments should ban e-cigarettes or electronic nicotine delivery systems”.
Williams described Chan’s suggestion as “ludicrous”, citing the latest statements issued by independent experts supporting e-cigarettes as a much safer alternative to tobacco and an effective aid to quit cigarette smoking.
E-cigarettes around 95 percent less harmful than tobacco
An expert independent evidence review by Public Health England published in August 2015 concluded that e-cigarettes are around 95 percent less harmful than smoking and that e-cigarettes may be contributing to falling smoking rates among adults and young people in the UK.
The Public Health England review found that almost all of the 2.6 million adults using e-cigarettes in Great Britain are current or ex-smokers, most of whom are using the devices to help them quit smoking or to prevent them going back to cigarettes. It also provides reassurance that very few adults and young people who have never smoked are becoming regular e-cigarette users (less than 1% in each group). Public Health England is an operationally autonomous executive agency of the UK Department of Health.
“E-cigarettes are not completely risk free but when compared to smoking, evidence shows they carry just a fraction of the harm. Local stop smoking services should look to support e-cigarette users in their journey to quitting completely,” said Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England.
“The evidence consistently finds that e-cigarettes are another tool for stopping smoking and in my view smokers should try vaping and vapers should stop smoking entirely. E-cigarettes could be a game changer in public health in particular by reducing the enormous health inequalities caused by smoking,” said Professor Ann McNeill, King’s College London and independent author of the review.
“My reading of the evidence is that smokers who switch to vaping remove almost all the risks smoking poses to their health. Smokers differ in their needs and I would advise them not to give up on e-cigarettes if they do not like the first one they try. It may take some experimentation with different products and e-liquids to find the right one,” said Professor Peter Hajek, Queen Mary University London and independent author of the review.
E-cigarettes can help smokers quit
A new report released in April 2016 by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) entitled “Nicotine without smoke: tobacco harm reduction” 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. The RCP is the leading professional membership body for physicians in the UK and internationally.
The key findings of the 200-page RCP report are:
- E-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking. Use of e-cigarettes in the UK is limited almost entirely to those who are already using, or have used, tobacco.
- E-cigarette use has to date not attracted significant use among adult never-smokers, or demonstrated evidence of significant gateway progression into smoking among young people.
- Among smokers, e-cigarette use is likely to lead to quit attempts that would not otherwise have happened, and in a proportion of these to successful cessation. In this way, e-cigarettes can act as a gateway from smoking.
- The possibility of some harm from long-term e-cigarette use cannot be dismissed due to inhalation of the ingredients other than nicotine, but is likely to be very small, and substantially smaller than that arising from tobacco smoking.
The RCP report pointed out that establishing appropriate product standards to minimize exposure to the other ingredients could further reduce health risks of e-cigarettes. Although it is not possible to estimate the long-term health risks associated with e-cigarettes precisely, the RCP believes that available data suggest that they are unlikely to exceed 5 percent of those associated with smoked tobacco products, and may well be substantially lower than this figure.
- Eric Michael Santos