Looking ahead to COP9: 100 experts urge WHO to change stance on vaping

Ahead of the COP9 summit this November, 100 experts from across nicotine science, policy and practice have penned an open letter, urging Parties to the Framework Convention Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) to challenge the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) stance on healthier smoking alternatives. 

The letter, sent in anticipation of COP9 which is due to be held from the 8th to the 13th of November, calls on all relevant parties to act on published scientific evidence rather than follow the WHO’s current position. 

It states; “Regrettably, WHO has been dismissive of the potential to transform the tobacco market from high-risk to low-risk products. WHO is rejecting a public health strategy that could avoid millions of smoking-related deaths.”

It comes after recent action against vaping taken by the WHO, including calls for world leaders to completely ban vaping. Dr Harsh Vardhan, India’s Health and Family Welfare Minister, was recently awarded the WHO Director-General’s Special Recognition Award for spearheading the Indian Government's 2019 leslilaton, which banned e-cigarettes.

India currently has one of the world’s highest tobacco consumption rates, with over 267 million adult smokers - that’s around 29% of all adults aged 15 and over - and the loss of access to vaping won’t help matters. 

Alongside seven key points of evidence, the letter also includes the experts’ six recommended actions that Parties to the FCTC should consider. They include insisting that any WHO policy analysis makes a proper assessment of benefits to smokers or would-be smokers, including adolescents, as well as risks to users and non-users of alternative products. 

It’s hoped that this would prevent further bans on healthier alternatives to smoking due to the ever-increasing wealth of evidence being published on the long-term effects of vaping, which has so far been encouraging.

The letter also calls for an independent review of WHO and the FCTC approach to tobacco policy, addressing the interpretation and use of science, the quality of policy advice, stakeholder engagement and accountability and governance. 

In the run up to COP9, MPs have been asking questions about the UK Government’s approach to the summit in parliament. Andrew Lewer, Conservative MP for Northampton South, asked whether the Government will advocate for a contemporary approach to tobacco harm reduction, and if it will propose a dedicated working group for the issue be established at COP9.

In response, the Health Minister said that they won’t be doing either of these things, but that they will set out the UK’s own pragmatic and evidence-based approach to e-cigarettes.

In response, the UKVIA stated;Whilst we are pleased that the government supports an evidence based approach to e-cigarettes, the UK should support calls for a tobacco harm reduction working group.”

It is unclear what impact COP9 will have on the vaping industry and tobacco control legislations around the globe, but the UK continues to be a world leader in establishing vaping as a viable alternative to smoking.

It’s hoped that our Government will use COP9 as an opportunity to improve access to e-cigarettes and push for a more scientific and pragmatic approach to legislation, ultimately decreasing smoking rates and saving millions of lives. 

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