VPASA slams WHO’s comments branding e-cigarettes as ’harmful’

Johannesburg – The Vapour Products Association is concerned with how vaping has been described by the World Health Organization (WHO) in its latest report.

And chief executive Asanda Gcoyi said labelling vaping as “harmful” was reckless.

“The WHO, along with many other groups opposed to e-cigarettes and vaping, has once again demonstrated a lack of understanding of the fundamental difference between tobacco and nicotine, the former of which is addictive and kills millions of people due to its carcinogenic properties. In contrast, nicotine, whilst addictive, is not as harmful,” says Gcoyi.

Recently, the WHO published a report recommending governments do better to regulate vapes and e-cigarettes, which the organisation claims could be a gateway to tobacco consumption.

Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also labelled nicotine as highly addictive in the report.

Having closely studied WHO’s latest report on vaping and e-cigarettes, Gcoyi says it is extremely worrying that the international health organisation is “perpetuating a false narrative”.

“Quite alarmingly, the report is not backed up by any credible scientific information. It is misleading in the extreme and will set back efforts at tobacco harm reduction tremendously.

“Many more smokers will now be even more reluctant to switch from tobacco – which is known to cause cancer and other non-communicable diseases – to vaping, which, though not harmless, does not come anywhere near the level of harm associated with smoking.”

Several other research organisations like Idwala Research have also slammed WHO for its latest report on vaping.

Gcoyi says she is concerned that WHO’s latest report could have a defining impact on how South Africa decides to regulate e- cigarettes and vaping in the future.

“Unfortunately, this report is likely to be used indiscriminately by our government, which has shown a very strong reluctance to engage with the science of vaping on non-ideological terms.

“Everything we have heard from the government thus far has been purely through the prism of smoking. A quick glance at the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment Report released by the Department of Health with the Draft Control of Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill of 2018 clearly shows that government has zero interest in the emerging science that clearly shows that vaping is a harm-reduced alternative to smoking.”

Gcoyi says it is of utmost importance that the government consider scientific evidence on vaping when making a decision on how to legislate it.

“VPASA urges governments, and more specifically the South African government, to consider the science of harm reduction, which points to vaping and e-cigarettes as 95% less harmful than cigarettes – and it has been proven as the best alternative for those who are not willing to quit to, at the very least, use a product that is harm reduced.

“The government’s own Socio-Economic Impact Assessment System and the recently released National Policy Development Framework compel the government to consider scientific evidence in drafting policy.

“These two policy documents, if applied earnestly, will hopefully ensure credible policy proposals that recognise e-cigarettes are different to tobacco and deserve their own policy framework which is fully cognisant of the differences. There can be no ‘one policy’ for vaping and smoking.”

Gcoyi says VPASA agree with many of WHO’s recommendations in its new report on vaping, in particular the prevention of youth access to vaping.

However there needs to be a distinction between smoking and vaping.

“Some of the WHO’s recommendations included better regulations and preventing youth access to vaping, with which we agree wholeheartedly. However, there needs to be a vastly different regulatory regime for vaping products, recognising, first and foremost, that vaping and smoking are not the same.

“Scientific evidence must be at the very heart of any proposed regulation to avoid keeping millions of smokers addicted to their extremely harmful behaviour when there are clearly less harmful alternatives.

“Dogmatic approaches that view tobacco control only in cessation terms have been failing for decades, and will continue to do so if the public health agenda does not recognise the need to also reduce harm for those who do not wish to quit smoking.

“As for the gateway theory, this is pure scaremongering by those who have a visceral hatred for the tobacco industry and do not even allow themselves the opportunity to reflect on how e-cigarettes are the best available tool, at this point in time, to provide alternatives to smoking.

“The data is simply not on the side of this theory. It should be possible to prevent youth access to vaping without depriving millions of smokers of the opportunity to reduce the harm they are exposed to through combusted tobacco.”

Gcoyi says it is worrying that an international organisation like WHO has published such comments without any scientific evidence to back up their claims.

“Worrying is an understatement – it is distressing,” said Gcoyi.

“Many developing world governments rely on the WHO for advice on their public health policies. Many governments simply do not have the means to create policy from scratch and receive public health budgets not only from the WHO but budget support from international foundations such as the Bloomberg Foundation, which have a very strong view against vaping.

“As a result, these governments will be forced to adopt draconian policies on vaping, thereby preventing millions of smokers from accessing useful information about alternative forms of nicotine intake.

“It is also counter-intuitive that the WHO would have this position as it literally leaves combustible tobacco unchallenged in the nicotine market, which, even the most dogmatic anti-vaper should be able to accept as a tragic outcome of a well-meaning position.”

The WHO has also highlighted its concern around the increase in vaping among youth. Gcoyi said they were doing all they could to ensure that vaping products stay out of the hands of those under 18 in South Africa

“Electronic vapour products (EVPs) are for adult smokers and nicotine users, and they should be kept as such. As an association, we want to play our role in ensuring that these products are kept out of the hands of minors and our code of conduct bars members from selling these products to anyone under the age of 18.

“In physical stores, our members display appropriate signage and will request age verification where necessary. For online sales, our member retailers have undertaken a number of measures including age verification before entry to the site and partnering with courier companies who will verify age on delivery and refuse delivery if the recipient is under 18.

“We have also undertaken educational campaigns to educate consumers in this regard.”

Source: IOL