In a report so full of jargon that you lose the will to live ploughing your way through it, the World Health Organisation (WHO) made its position clear this week on e-cigarettes - and it's not positive, although that is not entirely unexpected. To increase its jargon usage, not only do we have ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems), we also have a new acronym, ENNDS (Electronic Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems). As I wrote on 23 August, WHO would rather people continue to smoke than admit the free market was more effective in tobacco harm reduction than it was. It's about saving face, not saving lives. This report will now be considered at the seventh session of the Conference of the Parties (COP7) in Delhi in November
Even though the UK's Royal College of Physicians states that "the hazard to health arising from long-term vapour inhalation from the e-cigarettes available today is unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco" and that "e-cigarettes appear to be effective when used by smokers as an aid to quitting smoking", WHO wants to restrict anyone from saying that ENDS are safer than tobacco, and still say there isn't enough evidence to say ENDS are successful in getting smokers to quit. And as you would expect from WHO, it proposes more draconian regulations in what can only be described as an all out assault on vapers and vaping.
The report recommends "banning the sale and distribution of ENDS/ENNDS to minors." Most people agree that the sale of e-cigarettes to minors should not be allowed. It isn't something that anyone is arguing for, but another recommendation is to ban the possession of the ENDS/ENNDS by minors. Banning children from possessing e-cigarettes basically means any child above the age of legal responsibility caught with a device in their pocket would potentially face prosecution and would risk getting a criminal record. Draconian doesn't begin to describe that proposal.
The report unsurprisingly calls for "banning or restricting advertising, promotion and sponsorship of ENDS/ENNDS". If you have a product that you can't advertise or promote, what is the incentive to produce it? Vaping has been so successful because the market is continuing to innovate, providing better and safer products for consumers. Encouraging all governments to follow the EU's lead is simply detrimental to public health.
It also recommends "banning or restricting the use of flavours that appeal to minors." That could mean anything. You can produce a report based on dubious research that says a majority of a group of 100 children indicate that they would be more likely to vape if they were offered a strawberry flavoured e-liquid, and then cite WHO as the reason why any strawberry flavour needs banning. In some countries that would be enough!
WHO also calls for an indoor vaping ban or at least where smoking is not permitted, even though the UK's Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology states that "health risks to bystanders are smaller still, as current evidence shows that levels of nicotine and contaminants released via exhaled vapour are neglible.”
WHO is determined to damage vaping, the vaping industry, and prevent tobacco companies from marketing new innovations that would reduce harm.
There is also another sting in the tail. Even though the UK has voted to leave the European Union, we haven't left yet, and the EU's representative at COP7 is the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, and he's about as anti-vaping as you can get. This is what he said earlier this year:
"I personally believe that electronic cigarettes must be regulated as strong as possible because from my point of view it is a danger for public health.”
So what can we do? Well, we can live in hope that the UK's Department of Health will exert influence on the European Commission. Personally, I don't like living in hope when there is something practical we can all do. You can contact your MP, tell them how worried you are, and ask them to raise it in the House of Commons and privately with ministers. You can also contact your MEP and ask them to raise this issue at an EU level.
November is an important month for vapers. Not only does COP7 take place from 7-12 November, on 24 November other restrictions from the EU's Tobacco Products Directive start to bite. You may not notice them, but your supplier of e-liquid certainly will. For example, currently I can buy, and my e-liquid supplier can manufacture, 24mg e-liquid. From 24 November, I will still be legally allowed to buy it, but my supplier will not be legally allowed to manufacture it. Any 24mg e-liquid sold will have to be from existing stock manufactured before that date, and once we hit 20 May 2017, it will become illegal to sell that stock.
Time is running out. If we want the voice of vapers to be heard loudly and strongly, we have to do it now before it's too late.