Monday, September 1, 2014

Electronic cigarettes need stronger regulation: WHO

Vapers have become increasingly popular,
yet experts worry about health threats.
Governments should ban the use of electronic cigarettes in public places and outlaw tactics to lure young users, the World Health Organization said in a report that calls for some of the toughest measures yet proposed for the increasingly popular devices.

It also expressed “grave concern” about the growing role of the powerful tobacco industry in the e-cigarette market, warning that the financially powerful companies could come to dominate the new business and use the current tolerance of the new products as a gateway to ensnaring a new generation of smokers at a time when the public health authorities seem to be winning the battle against tobacco.

The proposals by the organization, a United Nations agency, are only recommendations that might have little likelihood of being widely adopted. But health experts said they would serve as an important reference point for policy makers, both nationally and locally, as they try to navigate the complex balance of benefits and risks with very little science on which to base conclusions.

Many health experts welcomed the recommendations, which they said would help guide policy makers around the world as they struggle to keep up with a multibillion-dollar industry.

But some experts said they worried that the proposals were so restrictive that they might undermine the potential benefits of e-cigarettes, which, because they use battery-powered heating units to vaporize a liquid nicotine solution rather than burn tobacco, might not expose users to as many hazards as conventional cigarettes.

Some experts have even argued that e-cigarettes have the potential to drastically reduce rates of smoking, one of the biggest causes of preventable death worldwide, and so should not be overregulated.

But in its report, the organization said that because there were still too many uncertainties surrounding e-cigarettes, which have been on the market for less than a decade, their use indoors should be banned “until exhaled vapor is proven to be not harmful to bystanders.”

The report also called for regulation to ensure the products contain a standard dose of nicotine, as the drug content now varies widely among manufacturers. And to stop children from picking up the habit, it said that e-cigarette sales to minors should be banned and that fruity, candy-type flavorings should be prohibited.

The 13-page report, which summarizes the growing body of evidence on the health impact of electronic cigarettes, was prepared by the World Health Organization for the United Nations Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to be held in mid-October in Moscow.

The organization has no power to enforce its recommendations, but delegates to the meeting could, in theory, endorse the measures for inclusion in the treaty or call for yet more studies before taking further action.

The proposals come from the same organization that successfully pushed for the United Nations tobacco treaty, adopted in 2003, that is intended to reduce illnesses and deaths caused by tobacco.

The rapid growth of the market for e-cigarettes has left national regulatory systems and health policy experts struggling to keep up, as old notions about the dangers of tobacco and smoking are posed in a new light.

The health body said that there were now 466 brands of e-cigarettes globally, in a market valued last year at $3 billion. The market research firm Euromonitor forecasts sales will swell by a factor of 17 by 2030.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that e-cigarettes may hold promise as smoking cessation aids. But the World Health Organization report noted that there was scant evidence for their effectiveness in helping smokers give up the habit.

“Vapers,” as e-cigarette aficionados are known, have become a potent lobby on behalf of the products. Their support helped the tobacco industry defeat a European Commission proposal that the devices be regulated in Europe as medicines. In February, the European Parliament voted to adopt a set of rules that include a ban on advertising. The tobacco industry is lobbying to water down the measures before they are to go into effect in 2016.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration proposed in April extending its regulation of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes, with a ban on their sale to people under 18. The proposal remains under consideration.

Source: New York Times
This article has been edited for length.

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