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WHO’s Patronising Women

The World Health Organization has released another poor document, looking at women and tobacco, timing it for International Women’s Day

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Coming to light on 8 March, International Women’s Day, The World Health Organization (WHO) has released a document titled “Through A Gender Lens; Women and Tobacco in The Who European Region”. Veering between patronising and nonsensical, it adds nothing to the debate over tobacco harm reduction other than reaffirming the blinkered approach coming from

The WHO says the report(1) provides, “a summary of some of the challenges, old and new, that women and girls face in the context of the tobacco epidemic in the WHO European Region”.

It makes claims that, “the tobacco industry continues to target them through gendered messaging”, and “seeks to reinforce … recommendations of the WHO European strategy for women’s health and well-being by promoting gender-responsive tobacco-control policy.”

Page 9 reveals the bias inherent in the document as the pictures are supplied by The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the American organisation that works hand in hand with Bloomberg organisations to put over a grossly distorted version of vaping and tobacco harm reduction.

On one hand the WHO celebrate a “feminist movement” that “has grown across the European Region”, while in the next breath it effectively portrays women as weak-minded individuals who are easily led into the danger of using nicotine.

The initial comments on the dangers of smoking are clear enough, but the document slides into vaping as though there is no difference between it and the use of tobacco products. The build-up comes via criticism of smoking in Orange Is The New Black(2) and the role played by social media influencers.

New portfolios of nicotine and tobacco products and their advertisement have generated concern among the public health community and regulators,” it writes. They omit that the concern is overblown is one factors in the dramatic reduction in risk posed by these products and the health dividend that would accrue from every smoker switching.

E-cigarettes are often promoted as ‘reduced-risk’, ‘smoke-free’ and ‘socially acceptable’ consumer products”. The use of “promoted” is telling as it ignores the evidence that overwhelmingly demonstrate vape products are reduced-risk and smoke-free, and that UK and EU legislation means their use is indeed “socially acceptable”.

Tobacco and related industries advertise and promote their new products through traditional outlets, such as television, radio and print media, and means, including through the Internet, in retail and at recreational venues and events.

The focus on the tobacco industry again seeks to downplay the independent aspect and the fact that vaping is a consumer driven phenomenon. Instead, the WHO rails against women being depicted as “having fun with friends and being cool” or “having a good time”. Because only young women consider those things to be important?

Dramatically declining smoking rates – especially in places like the UK as evidenced by the recent Public Health England update – highlights the vital role vaping has to play in reducing the impact smoking has on society. But this doesn’t stop the WHO from dredging up the ridiculous gateway fear once more: “Social-positioning techniques and marketing tactics employed by the industry effectively target adolescents and young adults and have the potential ultimately to promote smoking and sustain nicotine addiction in young people globally.”

There, in that final sentence, is the shift. This isn’t about saving people from the ravages of tobacco any longer – this is a puritanical and evidence-free job creation scheme/war on nicotine.

Clearly designed to feed into the ongoing European review of the Tobacco Products Directive, the inane document covers packaging and flavour fears, citing their old favourites of “cotton candy and gummy bear”.

The WHO calls for “education, communication and public awareness”. Its Orwellian version of harm reduction facts has to stop, here’s hoping the UK uses its influence and funding to build an effective opposition to this nonsense at the Conference of Parties later this year(4)(5).


  1. Through a gender lens: women and tobacco in the WHO European Region (2021) -
  2. Orange Is The New Black -
  3. APPG Holds COP9 Inquiry -
  4. Post-Brexit Opportunities -
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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