The WHO’s tobacco control programme is funded in part by Bloomberg Philanthropies. In July of this year, the two parties restated their joint position at the launch of the WHO’s 8th Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic: Addressing New and Emerging Products. In this report, the WHO emphasised that Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems are “a threat to tobacco control,” are harmful, and should be banned or highly regulated. Bloomberg, in his capacity as the WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries, and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, stated that tobacco companies are marketing new products such as e-cigarettes to “hook another generation on nicotine.”
Now a dossier, Bloomberg, WHO and the Vaping Misinfodemic has been compiled by the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO).
The report contains statements and evidence from wide ranging sources including healthcare experts, leading academics, politicians, respected journalists and research organisations that puts major question marks on the mutual stance of the WHO and Bloomberg towards safer nicotine alternatives to smoking and the relationship between the two parties.
This dossier comes just a week after the UK Department of Health and Social Care announced that e-cigarettes could be prescribed on the National Health Service, a world first. That move by the UK government provoked significant public debate around the polar opposite views towards safer nicotine alternatives, such as vaping, held by the British government and the WHO which, not inconsequentially, is a major recipient of UK government support.
The dossier also comes as the WHO-hosted 9th Conference of Parties (COP9), tobacco control’s version of the United Nations COP26 conference on climate change is taking place this week. At COP9, government delegations from around the world are meeting to discuss tobacco and nicotine policy under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
The outcomes from COP9 discussions will determine how international tobacco control policies are implemented at a country level across the globe to address the fact that 1.1 billion people still smoke worldwide and 8 million die every year from tobacco-related diseases. These tobacco control discussions inevitably include recommendations to FCTC member states on how to address what the WHO calls a “threat to tobacco control”: emerging nicotine products, including vaping devices.
The dossier highlights nine reasons why serious question marks need to be raised about WHO and Bloomberg’s outright opposition to safer nicotine alternatives to deadly smoking. High on the list is their failure to distinguish between smoking addiction and nicotine dependence, says Charles A Gardner, Executive Director at INNCO: “Effectively, through this failure they are shifting the harm focus from smoking to tobacco to nicotine – where it obviously doesn’t belong. Nicotine does not cause cancer, heart, or lung disease. Smoking does.”
This is backed up in the dossier by expert views on the profound difference between deadly cigarette smoke and the drug, nicotine, including those expressed by Dr Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, Senior Research Fellow in Health Behaviours at the University of Oxford; Professor John Britton, Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology University of Nottingham, and special advisor to the Royal College of Physicians on Tobacco; Adam Afriye MP; and a joint statement by 15 past-Presidents of the world's top professional society in the field of tobacco control, the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco.
The WHO’s role in COP events is scrutinised, with evidence suggesting that it is very controlling in terms of the agenda and attendance. Unlike COP26, these tobacco control COP meetings are described as “all but excluding the media,” “well-known for the routine ejection of the public from proceedings,” and “notoriously secretive”.
The dossier also reports on claims that only tobacco control non-governmental organisations (NGOs) allowed to attend are those who subscribe to the WHO’s tobacco harm reduction denialist stance. The UK Parliament’s All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Vaping recently issued a warning about the participation at COP9 of The Union, a major global NGO funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies.
Says Gardner: “The Union (International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease) recently issued a major report titled Where Bans are Best: Why Low- and Middle-Income Countries Must Prohibit E-cigarette and HTP Sales to Truly Tackle Tobacco. The Union is one of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ two top tobacco control grantees (the other is the US-based Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids).”
He added: “We are a good case in point. INNCO, which represents and supports the rights of 98 million adults worldwide, who use safer nicotine to avoid toxic forms of tobacco, has once again been denied Observer Status at COP9 (as it was denied at COP8).”
In the dossier, the case of “EVALI” (E-cigarette, or Vaping, product-Associated Lung Injuries), as named by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Office on Smoking and Health, is also put under the spotlight. A US-only outbreak of lung injuries caused by bootleg THC (cannabinoid) vape oils “cut” with one or more adulterants, in 2019, was wrongly reported to be caused by legal nicotine vaping.
The “EVALI” outbreak was reported as triggering Bloomberg to invest $160m through Bloomberg Philanthropies, over a three-year period, to prohibit all e-cigarette ‘flavours’ (other than tobacco flavour). “EVALI” is also still incorrectly referenced by the WHO in its Q&A on vaping products in response to the question as to whether e-cigarettes cause lung injuries.
However, by early 2020, US authorities identified vitamin E acetate, a cutting agent used in some bootleg THC vaping oils (mainly in US states where cannabis remains illegal), as the “primary cause” of the outbreak.
As reported in the dossier and which escaped the attention of the world’s media, last month, 75 global experts with no tobacco industry ties, including seven individuals who have served as President of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, wrote to the CDC’s Director asking her to change the name of “EVALI” because it fails to alert THC vapers to their potential risks, and it misleads smokers and nicotine vapers to believe e-cigarettes were the cause.
The dossier raises a number of other key questions about WHO and Bloomberg including:
- Overstating the potential harms to under-aged vapers at the expense of the harm reduction opportunity that exists for adults
- The absurdity of calling e-cigarettes big tobacco products when the vape industry is dominated by independent manufacturers who are competing against big tobacco’s market share in cigarettes
- A WHO Q&A on e-cigarettes that is described as “astonishingly bad” and in which “practically all the factual statements in it are wrong.”
- Allegations of Bloomberg’s influence on tobacco control measures in the Philippines
- Transparency in the dealings between WHO and Bloomberg
- WHO and Bloomberg turning a blind eye to the mounting global recognition for the life-saving harm reduction potential of safer nicotine alternatives such as vaping, including those connected to their own organisations
Concludes Gardner: “I’ve spent 30 years in global health, including three years as a Senior Advisor on Research to the WHO. For most of my career, I worked on HIV, TB, malaria, dengue, rabies, nutrition and child health issues. So, I’ve never seen anything as crazy as what’s happening now in tobacco control. What troubles me is how few people outside of my ‘little’ echo chamber, the community of millions of ex-smokers who use safer nicotine, knows what’s going on.
“There are 1.1 billion smokers now in the world, a situation that has barely changed in the last 20 years. The anti-harm reduction conservatism of the WHO and Bloomberg is not working.
“That’s why we are calling for a global response in the form of a Tobacco Harm Reduction Working Group and international governments collectively questioning and challenging the WHO and Bloomberg’s prohibitionist and evidence-denialist approach to safer nicotine. Because we are ex-smokers who use safer nicotine. We see what’s happening, and we have great empathy for smokers and ex-smokers who vape.
“The goal is simple. Save lives. Only the starting assumptions and strategies to get there differ. These can be debated. But this debate is unethical if it does not include people who have, themselves, made the transition from smoking to not-smoking, using tobacco harm reduction products (nicotine patches, nicotine gum & lozenges, nicotine vapes, nicotine pouches, snus and HPTs).
“Our future policy recommendations will focus on the need to change research priorities, just as HIV/AIDS activists sought to do in the 1990s. Global tobacco control research priorities today are skewed towards finding harms of alternative nicotine products while ignoring – or not even exploring – benefits, in particular the potential therapeutic benefits of nicotine. The health benefits of medical marijuana are now recognised because of research. The potential therapeutic benefits of psilocybin are now being explored (e.g., for PTST, and even for smoking cessation). However, research to explore those potential benefits was locked in amber for 30 years because of prohibitionist drug laws.”
- Bloomberg, WHO and the Vaping Misinfodemic - www.vapingmisinfodemic.com