WHO FCTC COP: Where Scientific Evidence Goes to Die

The 10th Congress of the Parties (COP10) of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) has come and gone and its outcomes are not surprising. Again, cherry picking of studies and “evidence” in favour of tougher regulatory measures on smoking was the order of the day.

Also unsurprising, was the lack of consensus and agreement on regulatory measures on novel and emerging products such as nicotine vapes and heated tobacco products. The COP opted to defer the conversation to the next COP in 2025. This is after the same decision was deferred by COP9 to COP10.

The deliberate ignorance or misinterpretation of harm reduction will have profound consequences for tobacco control. The concept of harm reduction is based on science and the recognition that dealing with any form of addiction is not an overnight process, but a journey. Whilst it is accepted and practiced in other sectors, it seems to be ignored when coming to tobacco control.

Science has been instrumental in revolutionising various industries, guiding them towards innovation and progress. Take the car industry for example: scientific advancements have led to the redesign of combustible cars to reduce emissions, ultimately paving the way for electric vehicles. Similarly, science can guide us toward evidence-based regulations that prioritise harm reduction and public health in the realm of tobacco control.

The scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the use of novel products such as vapes as less harmful alternatives to traditional smoking. Numerous studies have shown that these products are significantly less harmful than combustible tobacco and can assist smokers in quitting or reducing their consumption. For instance, the 2024 Cochrane Library Review, building up on the 2023 review has found high-certainty evidence that e-cigarettes with nicotine increase quit rates compared to Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and moderate‐certainty evidence that they increase quit rates compared to e-cigarettes without nicotine.

Thus, WHO FCTC’s proposals to ban vaping flavours, open system (refillable) devices, disposable vapes, nicotine salt e-liquid, and redefining the term “smoke” to include smoke-free vapor products are misguided and not grounded on vast evidence that’s out there.

The suggestion to redefine the term “smoke” to include smoke-free vapour products is absurd as smoking and vaping are not the same. The distinction is important because smoking delivers nicotine by burning tobacco, which can cause smoking-related illnesses while vaping delivers nicotine by heating a liquid in a much less harmful way and the user has the choice to decide on the nicotine strength.

There are those who would stop at nothing to decimate the vaping industry in particular. However, if successful in their bid, it will come at a great cost to millions of smokers who could benefit from combustible tobacco alternatives. The deferring of the decision on novel nicotine products is somewhat indicative that there are still clearheaded people. As for the regulation of vaping products, it is long overdue, but it must be grounded on science and not nefarious reasons that are unfounded.