Tag Archives: world health organization

Gulf States discussing total ban of e-cigarettes

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


FCTC: Constructing a new assault on smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes: Background

This a first of a series on this latest development at the FCTC.

Though I am not that conversant with the World Health Organization, they seem to do some good in the world, not unlike the FDA. And just like the FDA when they turn their gaze (via the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) onto tobacco and nicotine, it all goes to hell.

Meeting this November in Uruguay, the FCTC will have on the agenda the new report Control and prevention of smokeless tobacco products and electronic cigarettes. As indicated in the title, the path is already determined, -control and prevention. (The authors are listed as the Convention Secretariat so it is unknown as to whether these are the usual folks repeating themselves or new ones joining in on the scorched earth tobacco policy that maintains the disease levels that they themselves love to invoke as motivating their actions).

This is not unexpected.

If you examine the guiding document of the FCTC, you will already see in place injunctions against any sort of harm reduction.

For instance on page 7:

Towards this end, each Party shall, in accordance with its capabilities:
(b) adopt and implement effective legislative, executive, administrative and/or other measures and cooperate, as appropriate, with other Parties in developing appropriate policies for preventing and reducing tobacco consumption, nicotine addiction and exposure to tobacco smoke.

If you have as your stated purpose the prevention and reduction of nicotine addiction which is characterized in the new paper as “a highly toxic and addictive substance that poses a serious risk to health” you effectively remove the possibility of reducing the health risks to continuing users. The goal of “reducing tobacco consumption” also dismisses the idea of there being safer alternatives.

This becomes even clearer on page 9 where signatories are commanded:

“do not promote a tobacco product by any means that are false, misleading, deceptive or likely to create an erroneous impression about its characteristics, health effects, hazards or emissions, including any term, descriptor, trademark, figurative or any other sign that directly or indirectly creates the false impression that a particular tobacco product is less harmful than other tobacco products.”

How can you create a false impression of something being true when in fact it is true? There is no doubt that some tobacco products are safer than others. Once again, if there is no allowance for safer products there can be no legitimate alternatives for smokers (other than quitting, and as we know, for some that just does not work).

But as much as they do not wish to aid smokers looking for safer alternatives, they do embrace harm reduction when it comes to displaced employment which might result as a result of their actions. From page 20:

“(ii) assisting, as appropriate, tobacco workers in the development of appropriate economically and legally viable alternative livelihoods in an economically viable manner; and (iii) assisting, as appropriate, tobacco growers in shifting agricultural production to alternative crops in an economically viable manner”

The FCTC thus is insensitive to the health concerns of recreational nicotine users but quite concerned about any effects on income. (Not that they are actually following through on this promise … see this news item).

Overall, this document is all top-down, orders from the gods above to the users who are discounted as having no contribution to make to the debate. The paternalistic tone is most obvious in this gem from page 2.

“[we are] Deeply concerned about the high levels of smoking and other forms of tobacco consumption by indigenous peoples,”

It is both criminal and sad that millions of dollars and institutional support go to this powerful institution who clearly are moving toward prohibition at all costs, who sacrifice public health in their quest for a tobacco free world, and do not understand that the use of nicotine is more than just mindless addiction.

-Paul L. Bergen