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Cessation Consternation

The World Health Organisation attacks a tobacco company, but UKVIA and the New Nicotine Alliance express dismay with the WHO’s position on tobacco harm reduction

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) launched into Philip Morris International (PMI) for wanting to take a harm reduction approach to World No Smoking Day. It will be seen as more hypocrisy from an organisation that while campaigning against smoking is encouraging countries to treat vaping the same as cigarette use. The UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) and the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) are united in their condemnation of WHO’s stance.

PMI used World No Tobacco Day is issue, “a call to the global regulatory and public health community to leave aside ideological differences and instead leverage technology, science and innovation to more rapidly improve public health.”

Jacek Olczak, PMI’s Chief Operating Officer, admitted that vaping is not risk-free, but said: “Adults who smoke deserve access to smoke-free alternatives backed by solid science. They also deserve current information in order to make their own choices. Put simply: It’s time to unsmoke.”

Vinayak Prasad, head of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, responded in an email to journalists: “We regard the PMI campaign as little more than a cynical attempt by the company to promote its deadly products. The claim that these are cessation aids is not substantiated.”

Prasad’s reaction is typical from an organisation that is compelled by Article 1d of its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to support tobacco harm reduction - yet actively campaigns against it.

PMI wasn’t alone in wanting to move the conversation forward. British American Tobacco (BAT) was also keen to open up dialogue. Will Hill, Head of Legal and External Affairs, wanted to move the debate surrounding on by discussing the role that vaping products can play in improving smoking quit rates.

He also issued a call for all vaping manufacturers (including tobacco companies) and policy makers to work together to help slash smoking rates and vastly improve the impact of campaigns such as Stoptober, to make a tobacco-free world a reality sooner. Also, hitting close to the WHO’s reluctance to consider sound science, Hill feels there’s a need to deal with the widespread misconceptions about the health impacts of vaping.

The WHO resolutely refuses to engage with the tobacco industry – but this impacts the independent vaping industry too. UKVIA has led international attempts to encourage the WHO’s tobacco control group to differentiate between vaping products and tobacco products and change their position on vaping.

It believes: “The WHO’s reticence to reform its policy also stands in stark contradiction to the UK Government’s positioning on vaping products. In a review of the evidence to have emerged since 2015, the Department of Health and Social Care concluded that regulations are needed to balance the risks of e-cigarettes with their potential benefits and that restrictions on communicating these potential benefits when compared with tobacco products should be reconsidered.

John Dunne, Board member for the UK Vaping Industry Association said: “There is a growing bank of evidence which shows that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking, including studies from the respected and independent Public Health England, Cancer Research UK and Action on Smoking and Health. Despite this the WHO continue to confuse and dissuade smokers from switching to vaping, potentially prolonging the harmful effects of smoking on those people.”

“Just last week, scientists from University College London published research that found smokers were three times more likely to quit by vaping, rather than using other nicotine replacement therapies. The WHO themselves recognise the potential for vaping to help people make the switch, so they need to stop contradicting themselves and base their policies on scientific evidence. Switching to vaping really could see the sort of tobacco-free society that the WHO are encouraging through World Tobacco Free Day.”

Sarah Jakes of independent consumer charity the NNA added: “The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was founded with a commitment to encourage tobacco harm reduction. Its Ottawa Charter and Jakarta Declaration also pledge to put people at the heart of decision-making and to support and enable consumers to keep themselves, their families and friends healthy. Yet by ignoring the global success of alternative nicotine products these goals are being abandoned.”

“World No Tobacco Day should be a great opportunity to raise awareness of far safer alternative nicotine products to maximise benefits to public health worldwide. It is disappointing then that the WHO instead supports bans on vaping, despite mounting evidence that e-cigarettes are a proven safer alternative to smoking and have contributed to record falls in smoking prevalence in countries where they are allowed to flourish.”

The NNA expressed dismay that, again, this year the WHO failed to mention how reduced risk products like e-cigarettes could contribute to a world without tobacco. The consumer group writes: “Instead, the WHO are planning to embark on a campaign to persuade governments to treat vaping the same as smoking all over the world.”

“In a submission to the WHO’s General Assembly this month, the FCTC declared it wanted to ‘prioritize measures that prevent initiation of novel and emerging tobacco products, protect people from exposure to their emissions, prevent health claims being made for such products, avert their promotion, regulate the contents and disclosure of the contents of novel and emerging tobacco products, and regulate, including restriction or prohibition of the manufacture, importation, distribution, presentation, sale and use of novel and emerging tobacco products’. As usual, the FCTC is incorrectly classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco to bolster its Luddite action against innovative products which have led to astonishing declines in smoking rates in countries such as Norway, Japan, Sweden, Korea, USA, France and the UK.”


  • PMI’s “It’s Time to Unsmoke” initiative – [link]
  • UKVIA – [link]
  • New Nicotine Alliance – [link]
Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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