This week there will be a meeting of tobacco regulators under auspices of the FDA-funded WHO Global Tobacco Regulators’ Forum (GTRF) in the Netherlands and part of the preparation for FCTC COP-9, which will be held in 2020, also the Netherlands. Two leaked papers from WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO) suggest that WHO is building up to an attempt to treat reduced risk products no differently to cigarettes or with even greater hostility.
Vaping and other smoke-free products have the potential to reduce the enormous harm of smoked tobacco products. The stakes of getting policy responses to smoke-free products wrong are high, especially if such restrictions stop millions of the world’s smokers accessing safer alternatives. It is disappointing that in its latest tobacco report, WHO clings to outdated orthodoxy when it could embrace innovation. Equating smoke-free products with cigarettes only serves to protect the stranglehold of the cigarette trade on the world’s nicotine users and will nullify the potential of modern tobacco harm reduction strategies.
I was one of those agitating for the FCTC back in 1999-2003. Generally, the FCTC doesn’t do what normal international treaties do – address some transboundary issue like climate change, international trade or intellectual property. It tries to establish norms for regulation of tobacco commerce within countries – a kind of solidarity mechanism for national anti-tobacco policy. The problem is that this idea all goes sour when the WHO, Convention Secretariat and/or Parties agree, in solidarity, to normalise truly terrible policies – for example, to encourage prohibition of e-cigarettes, to treat all smokeless tobacco as though it is the same and just as risky as smoking, or to regulate heated tobacco products as though they are cigarettes. All really harmful ideas that protect the cigarette trade, perpetuate smoking and cause more disease and death.
We’ve sent a letter to WHO and the FCTC secretariat in advance of FCTC COP-8 (1-6 October, Geneva) – protesting about WHO’s inclination towards prohibition and excessive regulation of alternative nicotine delivery systems (ANDS). For background, see papers on vaping (FCTC/COP/8/10) and heated tobacco products and others (FCTC/COP/8/8).
I’m sometimes accused of being a WHO-sceptic, or worse. No more! In the run up to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control COP-7 meeting in Delhi, 7-12 November, I have been challenged to say something positive about how the FCTC could do useful and constructive things on vaping and tobacco harm reduction from a public health point of view, other than the default answer “absolutely nothing at all”.
I sometimes refer to ENDS – Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems – to mean vaping equipment and liquids, e-cigarettes etc. Apologies.