As vaping incidence continues to grow globally, governments across the world have been mulling appropriate measures for its regulation. In most cases, domestic regulatory conversations are heavily influenced and shaped by opinions of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has largely taken a dim view of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) and Electronic Non-Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENNDS). The WHO has, unjustifiably, transferred its disdain for the tobacco industry to the vaping industry. As a result, discussions on the appropriate regulation of ENDS/ENNDS have excluded the vaping industry. It is highly conceivable that the WHO’s stance against ENDS/ENNDS will ultimately work against their tobacco harm reduction agenda.
In the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) Global Implementation Report published by the WHO FCTC Secretariat in 2021, forming part of preparations for the 9th iteration of the Conference of Parties (COP9) currently underway, industry interference was noted as an obstacle hindering the effective implementation of the convention. The report encourages parties at COP9 to identify this influence within their domestic policy-making environments and respond to it accordingly.
Such findings are not surprising, considering that the WHO, in various ways, has tried to discredit opposing voices in policy discussions around ENDS/ENNDS regulation. Tactics by the WHO include the rejection and casting of doubt on scientific evidence which prove that vaping is far less harmful than smoking, questioning the involvement of tobacco companies in the vaping industry, and targeting nicotine, rather than focusing on the true objective, which should be tobacco control.
It is encouraging however, that some countries have begun to realise that vaping and smoking are not one and the same and that vaping is a less harmful alternative to smoking and can play a role in smoking reduction. Recently, the United States (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of British American Tobacco’s (BAT) Vuse E-Cigarette in the United States, making it the first-ever vapour product to get clearance from the health regulator. Importantly, the FDA said the approval came after analysis of data showing that the use of Vuse’s tobacco-flavoured products could assist users in reducing exposure to harmful chemicals emitted by combustible cigarettes.
The FDA’s decision represents a significant milestone for vaping and hopefully it signals a change in views towards ENDS/ENNDS. For years, the UK has been the lone ranger in advocating for the benefits of vaping in smoking reduction and even adopted vaping as part of tobacco harm reduction strategies. Public Health England has been reiterating its stance that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking. As a result of the acceptance of science-based evidence, the UK has been encouraging smokers to switch to vaping and has experienced significant declines in smoking rates.
At the COP9, parties should take note of the USA’s FDA and UK’s views and genuinely discuss fair-based regulation of ENDS/ENNDS. An honest appraisal of the science will compel the WHO to accept that vaping is not the same and is less harmful than smoking, and as such requires a unique set of regulations. It is also high time that the vaping industry is considered as a genuine partner in tobacco harm reduction and not an adversary. Afterall, a shared goal from the WHO and vaping industry is the reduction of global smoking.