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Top World Scientists Issue a Warning to WHO to Not Classify E-Cigarettes Under the Same Category as Regular Cigarettes


The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been recently warned by a group of 53 prominent scientists to not classify electronic cigarettes as one among the commonly available tobacco-based products. The scientists argue that by classifying electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, WHO will jeopardise a big opportunity to reduce deaths caused due to smoking and a chance to prevent several diseases in regular tobacco smokers.

The United Nations agency which is presently assessing the institution’s position on this matter, previously indicated that it will be better to apply same type of restrictions on all nicotine-based products.

A conglomerate of scientists based out of Australia, Asia, North America and Europe recently submitted an open letter to the WHO Director General Margaret Chan arguing that low-risk products such as electronic cigarettes were actually a part of the solution to fight the smoking menace, and not the part of the problem.

The experts further emphasised that products like electronic cigarettes could be among the most important health innovations to have happened in the 21st century, capable of saving the lives of hundreds of millions of people. Any action to suppress and control them as commonly available tobacco products should be countered with great resistance.

Leaked WHO documents which talk about a meeting that happened in November 2013 suggest that WHO thinks of electronic cigarettes to be a threat and wants them to be categorised under the same umbrella as the tobacco-based products, under the FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control).

This step has got the alarm bells ringing amongst many medical expert groups, apart from the booming electronic cigarette industry. Around 178 countries are part of the above mentioned International Convention and any such measure will make it obligatory for them to implement the Convention’s directions. However, it must be noted that United States is a notable non signatory of this Convention.

Any such move to categorise electronic cigarettes in the same bracket as regular cigarettes will push countries into taking similar stringent measures to restrict e-cigarettes’ demand, including practices such as introducing health warnings, banning advertising, curbing use in public areas and raising taxes on them.

The overall demand of e-cigarettes which use battery-powered cartridges for production of nicotine infused inhalable vapour, has reached the skies in the past few years and global analysts are of the belief that at present the electronic cigarette industry has worldwide sales of around $ 3 billion.

However, it must be noted that these devices are relatively new and controversial owing to the lack of long-term scientific proof supporting their safety. Many people believe that electronic cigarettes are nothing more than Gateway products that get people addicted to nicotine, and slowly to tobacco-based smoking. But scientists say that they are unaware of any credible evidence which supports any such conjecture.

Big Tobacco Supports Scientists

Sooner or later, it was obvious of big tobacco companies wanting to offset the gradual decline in conventional smoking, to get invested in electronic cigarette industry. Today, all the major analog cigarette players have a notable presence in the e-cigarette industry. It is due to this reason that the Big Tobacco has also come out in support of scientists in this matter.

Kingsley Wheaton who is director of Corporate and Regulatory affairs at the British American Tobacco explained that classification of electronic cigarettes as tobacco-based products would mean that chronic smokers will find it difficult to use a less risky alternative, thereby depriving them of an opportunity to give up conventional smoking.

Geneva-based World Health Organisation has released a statement saying that its position on the electronic cigarettes is still in nascent stages, ahead of an important meeting of the FCTC schedule for October 13th to 18th in Moscow, Russia where all the proposed regulations will come under consideration.

Armando Peruga, the program manager for the World Health organisation’s Tobacco Free initiative informed the reporters some time ago that the organisation is only elaborating these regulations as of now and the final decisions will soon be made available to the general public.

Imperial College, London’s Emeritus professor, Gerry Stimson and one of the organisers who sent the letter to the WHO director told reporters that the WHO’s position on the matter was quite bizarre. What surprised them was the organisation’s stance on the electronic cigarettes being harsher than other regulators in the United States and Europe. All they want to do as of now is make sufficient noise about the issue before things actually get set in stone.

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