Could changes to a global tobacco treaty harm health?

It’s hard to believe that a global public health treaty dedicated to stopping smoking — and saving millions of lives in the process — could lead to more unnecessary disease and premature death. But that’s what may happen if the World Health Organization has its way.

This week, India is hosting a major meeting focusing on the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a landmark 2003 global treaty on tobacco control. The most controversial issue under discussion will be the treatment of electronic cigarettes.

The debate could not be more polarized. On one side, the WHO has taken a relentlessly hostile approach to electronic cigarettes, seeing them as a threat to individual and public health. On the other side, a large group of experts in nicotine science and policy point out that using electronic cigarettes is much less risky than smoking tobacco cigarettes, and the new products provide an opportunity to reduce smoking and related diseases.

The Royal College of Physicians of London, relying on toxicological studies, has estimated that the health risks of electronic cigarettes are “unlikely to exceed 5 percent of those associated with smoked tobacco products, and may well be substantially lower than this figure.” Electronic cigarettes don’t burn tobacco, so they don’t produce carcinogenic tar and other toxic products of combustion.

The opening shots have been fired already. Officials at the WHO published a literature review of electronic cigarettes in August. Late last month, an expert group at the UK Center for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies published a detailed and damning critique of the WHO’s work. It argued that the WHO “fails to accurately present what is already known about e-cigarettes … it positions e-cigarettes as a threat rather than an opportunity to reduce smoking.”

Faced with these dueling reports, what should delegates at the FCTC meeting actually do? Here are six pieces of advice… Read More>>

Source: STAT

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