May 31st, 2021

Letter: WHO must urgently reassess its tobacco & nicotine policy and stop causing harm

WHO should be building public trust, not giving its critics further justification

It’s World No Tobacco Day and we have sent our detailed letter and multiple critical expert comments to the WHO Director-General.   The covering note and links to relevant documents are reproduced below.  I hope it causes them to pause and reflect.  My guess is that Tedros has been very badly advised here.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Director-General
World Health Organisation
Avenue Appia 20
1202 Geneva
Switzerland

31 May 2021

Dear Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus

WHO must urgently reassess its tobacco & nicotine policy and stop causing harm

We write to express our grave concern about the direction the World Health Organisation is taking on tobacco and nicotine policy.

WHO’s outright opposition to products that are, beyond any reasonable doubt, much lower risk than cigarettes (vaping, heated tobacco products, snus, oral nicotine etc) makes no sense in terms of science, public health or ethics.

WHO support for the prohibition of these low-risk products is wholly counter-productive and has the obviously perverse effect of protecting the cigarette trade, promoting smoking and increasing disease and death. How can WHO justify banning much safer alternatives to smoking while leaving cigarettes easily available everywhere? Yet, India’s Health Minister has just received a WHO award for doing exactly this, with an endorsement by you personally. The main beneficiary will be India’s dominant cigarette company, ITC Limited.

WHO’s press release for World No Tobacco Day (31 May) is a perfect illustration of an international agency losing control of its scientific objectivity and its focus on reducing disease. We attach a detailed 14-page critique of this press release written by us, all longstanding independent public health policy experts with no conflicts of interest. We hope our critique prompts a complete rethink. This is a time when WHO should be building public trust, not giving its critics further justification.

We are not the only specialists concerned by WHO’s bizarre stance, I attach a collection of statements from the independent expert community expressing deep concern about WHO’s approach and in support of the use of harm reduction as a tobacco policy, including from highly respected former WHO directors.

These products need to be understood as part of a harm-reduction strategy and integral to meeting the Sustainable Development Goal target (3.4) to reduce cancer, respiratory cardiovascular and other non-communicable diseases. They are an opportunity, not a threat. It is time for WHO to catch up with the last 15 years of innovation and embrace tobacco harm reduction.

More discussion of these issues is available here: WHO has gone rogue on tobacco policy – millions at risk from tired dogma and a refusal to grasp innovation.

We hope you will reflect on this communication and provide a substantive response.

Yours sincerely

Professor David B. Abrams PhD
Department of Social and Behavioral Science
NYU School of Global Public Health
New York University.
United States

Clive D. Bates MSc
Director,
Counterfactual
London,
United Kingdom

Professor Raymond S. Niaura PhD
Department of Social and Behavioral Science
NYU School of Global Public Health
New York University.
United States

David T. Sweanor JD
Adjunct Professor of Law
Chair of the Advisory Board of the Centre for
Health Law, Policy and Ethics
University of Ottawa, Canada

CC:
Dr Zsuzsanna Jakab, Deputy Director-General
Dr Catharina Boehme, Chef de Cabinet
Dr Ranieri Guerra, Assistant Director-General for Strategic Initiatives
Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela, Assistant Director-General, Special Advisor to the Director-General, Strategic Priorities
Ms Jane Ellison Executive Director for External Relations
Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist
Dr Samira Asma Assistant Director-General, for Data, Analytics and Delivery

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