The global health industry is currently focused on the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) taking place in Delhi, India. Importantly, this year’s gathering brings together the 180 signatories of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).
The FCTC which entered into force in 2005 was the WHO’s first international treaty and has been effective in coordinating and supporting the global struggle against tobacco.
The WHO, in preparation for COP7 commissioned an assessment of electronic cigarettes and vaping – which the WHO report refers to as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS).
While people smoke for the nicotine, they are dying from the tar. Nicotine, while addictive, does not cause cancer. Repeated quantification of the risks of e-cigarettes concludes that vaping remains 95% less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.
Despite a large body of existing research demonstrating the clear role of vaping in saving smokers’ lives and the WHO report’s own acceptance that, “vaping presents a magnitude of risk likely to be much smaller than tobacco smoke, the WHO report then, somewhat controversially, goes on to suggest that electronic cigarettes should be regulated along with tobacco,” said Philip Bartholomew of the Electronic Cigarette Association of South African (ENDS).
The UKCTAS released its critique of the WHO findings to express their main concerns.
The widely differing views expressed by both studies are likely to fuel the debate on correctly understanding, and separating, both public and official views on vaping and tobacco smoking.
State-sponsored scientific studies of the health and safety aspects of vaping have, to date, been limited to the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the United States. Amongst these the United Kingdom has, by far, invested the most intellectual capital in understanding the clear advantages of vaping.
Despite these generally accepted views of pure nicotine, the fact that the recently published WHO research is at such variance with independent United Kingdom research and policy prescriptions, “provides the vaping industry a powerful opportunity to position itself globally – with COP7 the ideal platform from which to articulate this positioning,” says Bartholomew.
A review of UKCTAS’s critique of the WHO findings neatly encapsulates the key issues of the current vaping versus smoking debate.
In this critique UKCTAS argues that:
Correctly understanding the very clear scientific, health and safety differences between vaping and tobacco smoking, is critical to the formulation of vaping legislation.
Bartholomew believes that South Africa should be guided by independent United Kingdom research and policy, “classifying vaping and e-cigarettes in a category of their own – critically distinct from tobacco cigarettes, as science has shown that e-cigarettes can - and are - saving lives.”
EASA strongly believes that the vaping industry should be regulated but any regulatory strategy developed for e-cigarettes must take a balanced approach by seeking to ensure product safety, enable and encourage smokers to use electronic cigarette products instead of tobacco, and prevent effects that counter the overall goals of tobacco control policy.
As award-winning director Aaron Biebert’s recent documentary A Billion Lives so graphically demonstrates, the world is standing at a crossroads. Vaping, for the first time in history, holds out the real possibility to end smoking globally, saving a billion lives – and halving global health budgets.
How COP7 receives and interprets the current data on vaping, and how legislators globally and in South Africa use this information to craft policy is critical to saving lives.
“It is imperative that we all work together to reduce the tobacco smoking pandemic. Vaping today, through scientific evidence provides a chance for smokers.” concludes Bartholomew.