Over 50 health experts and nicotine experts from 15 different countries worldwide are trying to tell the World Health Organization (WHO) to not classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products because it could endanger the “significant health innovation.”
The experts banded together to write an open letter to Dr. Margaret Chan. Dr. Chan is the Director General of WHO, and the letter argues that e-cigarettes play a vital role in the fight against smoking.
“These products could be among the most significant health innovations of the 21st century — perhaps saving hundreds of millions of lives. The urge to control and suppress them as tobacco products should be resisted,” the group of experts wrote.
The letter comes as a response to leaked WHO documents that seemed to view e-cigarettes as a both harmful and a threat. The leaked documents came from a meeting last November.
The letter has a total of 53 signatories, all of whom are respected members of the health field. One of the members is David Sweanor, a law professor at the University of Ottawa who also works on tobacco control.
“We’re here to try to get rid of cigarettes, we’re here to try to make cigarettes obsolete and we have the potential with technology to start to do that, and that would be one of the biggest breakthroughs we’ve ever had in public health,” Sweanor said in an interview.
Currently, around 1.3 billion people smoke globally, and WHO predicates that up to a billion people will die premature-deaths in the 21st century due to tobacco products. While tobacco products are deadly, the experts want to have WHO understand that some are deadlier than others, and e-cigarettes can be a huge help to smokers. They could also save millions of lives.
“For the WHO to suggest that e-cigarettes are as risky as other tobacco products would send an erroneous and bleak message to the millions of current e-cigarette users who have used them to quit smoking,” said Robert West, one of the experts that signed the letter. “It would discourage smokers from trying them and we would miss out on a major opportunity to reduce smoke related deaths globally,” said West, who is also a Professor of Health Psychology and Director of Tobacco Studies at University College in London
The group of signatories does not want the UN run World Health Organization to put low-risk nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, under the category of tobacco products. This would make them harder to get and more expensive, which would ultimately defeat their purpose.
The general purpose of these products is to offer smokers an affordable, available, and low-risk substitute to cigarettes. By classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco, they will no longer be as affordable or as readily available, causing more people to stick to buying regular cigarettes.
Whether or not the letter will accomplish its goal has yet to be seen, though it would be nice to see it succeed.