The World Health Organization’s War on Vaping

There are a number of nations that have banned vaping, in part due to the World Health Organization (WHO), which believes that the process of heating e-juice “may contribute to the formation of toxicants in the emissions” and produced an influential report in 2014.

WHO is also very concerned about nicotine, which although generally addictive, has not been shown to be a health threat when inhaled from an e-cigarette.1

World Health Report on e-cigarettes

In fact, if you read what this “health organization” says about nicotine, it’s full of vague claims using phrases such as “it may” and “seems involved”. At the same time, WHO admits that the presence of “carcinogenic compounds and other toxicants” related to vaping are 1-2 orders of magnitude lower than in tobacco smoke. In plain English, that means it has 90% to 99% less health-endangering chemicals than smoking. Further, “ENDS [electronic nicotine delivery systems] generate lower levels of particles than cigarettes.”

WHO does point out that the primary health risk from e-cigs is nicotine exposure through the skin or ingestion. That’s one huge reason for keeping your e-cigs and especially your e-liquid out of reach of children. But the interesting thing is that WHO admits that vaping is not as risky as handling e-juice.

Here’s a standout statement from WHO:

“The 2014 Surgeon General’s Report concluded that non-combustible products such as ENDS are much more likely to provide public health benefits only in an environment where the appeal, accessibility, promotion, and use of cigarettes and other combusted tobacco products are being rapidly reduced.”

That pretty much fits with what Public Health England and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in the US have been saying. There is a net health benefit of switching from tobacco to e-cigs.

One odd complaint from WHO is that the presence of ENDS sends a mixed message when compared to the simple message that smoking is bad, so everyone should quit smoking. The vaping world understands that vaping can be a helpful tool in quitting (or at least reducing) tobacco use because most e-liquid contains nicotine. That sounds like a pretty simple message to me.

WHO is officially dedicated to the end of tobacco use and nicotine addiction, whether related to tobacco or not. This makes it a biased organization that seeks to bolster its positions on tobacco and nicotine use. WHO supports the medical use of nicotine, as in patches and gum, but not its recreational use.

Here’s the official WHO statement on regulating e-cigarettes (point 39 in its report):

“In order to achieve the general regulatory objectives mentioned above, Parties that have not banned the sale of ENDS could consider the following non-exhaustive list of regulatory options, on the understanding that the advisability and feasibility at country level of each of these options will depend on a complex set of country-specific factors, including the existing regulatory frameworks and the legal exigencies of the regulatory process.”

In other words, if your nation hasn’t already banned it, make it difficult to obtain with regulations. Don’t let the industry make any health claims or even say that it can help smokers quit tobacco. (WHO must be unhappy with Public Health England over this one!) Don’t let vapers use e-cigarettes in public places, and don’t let them vape indoors either. Regulate advertising of ENDS as they are already doing with tobacco products.

WHO even wants to ban the use of the words electronic cigarette and e-cigarette because they could cause confusion with tobacco cigarettes. (Philip Morris could be adding to the confusion with its new heated tobacco products.) And they don’t want people to vape anywhere that smoking is banned. On top of that, they want to take away fruity flavors, candy flavors, and flavors based on alcoholic drinks “until empirical evidence shows that they are not attractive to minors”. That raises two questions: What would WHO consider empirical evidence? And what have they got against flavors that kids and adults like?

WHO proposes that e-cigarettes and e-liquid have warning labels “commensurate with proven health risks” – which I don’t think anyone in the vaping community would disagree with. What we do disagree with is the unproven health risks in the WHO report and other reports that are filled with speculation, innuendo, and false association with tobacco products.

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  1. Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (PDF), WHO, Sept. 1, 2014

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