World Health Organization Slammed For Misleading Smokers Away From Safer Alternatives Like Vaping

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

Advocates of harm reduction technologies for smokers attempting to quit combustible cigarettes are criticizing the World Health Organization (WHO) for misleading users about safer alternatives.

Vaping advocates argue the WHO is missing an opportunity on World No Smoking Day to raise awareness on the difference in risk between combustible tobacco and alternatives like vaping and smokeless snuff, which has helped Sweden achieve the lowest smoking rate in Europe at five percent of the population.

“On World No Tobacco Day, it is time for leadership from the WHO in educating governments that e-cigarettes are not tobacco products as some states wrongly categorize them, and emphasizing that it is the act of lighting tobacco and smoking it which is harmful to heart and cardiovascular disease, not tobacco in all its forms,” Sarah Jakes, chair of the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA), said in a statement Thursday.

The organization continues to link health harms from combustible products to tobacco as a whole, despite the majority of diseases coming as a result of the chemicals released when burning tobacco. The health body also takes an adversarial stance on nicotine and is largely silent on the benefits of harm reduction technologies like e-cigarettes. (RELATED: A Majority Of Adults Still Falsely Believe Nicotine Fuels Tobacco Cancer)

“The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was founded with a commitment to encourage tobacco harm reduction,” said Jakes. “Yet these goals appear to have been abandoned in favor of blindly attacking industry, ignoring the global success of alternative nicotine products and refusing to engage with consumers.”

An avalanche of peer-reviewed research shows vapor products drastically slash risks from combustible cigarettes. Tobacco’s impact on health is determined by the delivery method, which in the case of cigarettes is combustion. This is why smokeless tobacco products and e-cigarettes greatly reduce the health risks associated with smoking. Nicotine, on the other hand, is more comparable to caffeine, a mildly addictive but legal stimulant found in a wide variety of products.

Representatives for Fontem Ventures, makers of the popular e-cigarette brand, blu, are also calling out the WHO for misleading the public about the role alternative technologies can play in reducing global smoking rates.

“The WHO’s continued silence on vaping, particularly today, on World No Tobacco Day, is a disservice to the current generation of people looking to switch from combustible tobacco products to less harmful alternatives,” Guy Hendricks, head of corporate affairs at Fontem Ventures, said in a statement Thursday. “The WHO should instead embrace a clear, evidence-based position on vaping to ensure smokers across the world have access to the best information on harm reduction strategies.”

A recent study shows U.S. adults remain woefully misinformed on the health consequences of nicotine, falsely believing it is fueling cancer in cigarette smokers.

Roughly 53 percent of recently surveyed adults think nicotine causes cancer, according to a study released in February at the annual meeting of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco in Maryland. The survey, conducted with Pinney Associates, shows misperceptions about nicotine are far worse among smokers than non-smokers — a troubling point suggesting smokers may be avoiding reduced risk products like e-cigarettes due to this incorrect view.

Only 14.6 percent of non-smokers said nicotine causes cancer, compared to a staggering 52.5 percent of smokers. The results are consistent with previous studies showing a large majority of smokers still believe nicotine causes lung and oral cancers.

“In 1976, Michael Russell famously said ‘people smoke for nicotine but they die from the tar,’ leading to an acceptance of the nicotine replacement therapy market we have today,” Jakes said. “Yet increasingly the public are being misled into believing nicotine is a problem, when it can be a solution. World No Tobacco Day should be a great opportunity to raise awareness of far safer alternative nicotine products to maximize benefits to public health worldwide.”

Harm reduction experts say smokers need to be properly informed about alternatives to cigarettes by government health bodies and scientists if society is serious about ultimately eradicating the deadly habit.

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