Just yesterday the GCC Health Ministers Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE) set the stage for a total ban of e-cigarettes.
A statement issued by the conference underlined the “necessity for imposing a total ban” on e-cigarettes in line with the WHO guidelines and the findings of recent studies on the product.
Anti-smoking activists in the region have been campaigning for a ban on e-cigarettes, which are used as an alternative for traditional cigarettes, on grounds that it is more dangerous to the users compared to the traditional cigarettes.
I’m not sure why the level of misinformation regarding e-cigarettes is so astonishingly high in this part of the world but every few weeks there seems to be another outrageous statement such as:
Water vapour is absorbed by lungs, which can cause even lung cancer, says WHO report.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a warning to e-cigarettes users after it found the sticks contain carcinogens and toxic chemicals such as diethylene glycol, an ingredient used in antifreezes.
The recurring two items that seem to show up in almost every one of these articles out of this region are the FDA findings and the WHO advisory.
Oddly enough, the WHO advisory simply stated that there was no evidence yet for long term safety, and no non-anecdotal evidence that would support producers making cessation claims. This now close to three year old and rather restrained communication has through the wonder of the embellishment machine we call the media become a howling warning of danger.
And quite similarly, despite being widely dismissed as substandard work, the FDA report has become the official word on e-cigarette safety. What I fail to appreciate is why this report ever assumed the stature it did, and why (in the world) it achieved any prominence outside the borders of the United States. (Yes, I know they are a big country, and the FDA is well known but still, these are independent countries with their own research facilities, and some sense of national pride, are they not?)
Now of course it is quite possible that, just like most everyone else, the powers that be have an end in mind and then cast about for supporting (and tweakable) views.
One of the issues here is that we have authoritarian or tending toward authoritarian governments using tools generated in regions that are less so. As misguided as the FDA is, various agencies and the population itself act as checks on them, and as cynical as we might be about that process, it is still much more likely to end up benefiting the many than what happens in many other parts of the world. But then, these same tools generated in a democratic context, even if discarded on the home front, are then picked up by others to use.
So in summary, we have a substandard product assay from a far away country (otherwise often demonized in this part of the world) and a warning about proper product description from an international health agency being used as the main evidence to support the actions of a government to remove the availability to its people of a safer alternative to smoking.
And this too will be chalked up as a victory for the anti-smoking forces.
-Paul L. Bergen