Experts urge WHO to back Tobacco Harm-Reduction Strategies at the Seventh Conference of the Parties

Government policies seek to remove barriers to the availability of better, safer, non-combustible nicotine delivery products

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Picture of a cigarette on an ashtray. Wikimedia Commons

November 7,2016: The seventh Conference of the Parties (CoP7) of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) — the world’s first public health treaty — kicked off here Monday with a coalition of experts seeking a focus on policy for new nicotine products like e-cigarettes.

The FCTC entered into force in 2005 and establishes requirements and recommendations for reducing demand-supply of tobacco products to reduce preventable diseases and premature death caused by tobacco use. As many as 180 countries are now parties to the convention.

Ahead of the conference, a coalition of top tobacco harm-reduction experts warned that “one in two life-long smokers will die prematurely from a smoking-related disease”.

The coalition, established to provide balanced, evidence-based information on harm reduction, observed that “if current smoking patterns and trends continue, a billion people might die from smoking-related diseases in the 21st century”.

“Despite the availability of smoking-cessation medications, many smokers do not want to try them. Of those who use them, the majority either fail or relapse within a year,” the coalition pointed out in a Mission Statement.

It explains how “public health experts have recommended that smokers be encouraged… to switch completely to less harmful substitutes”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified harm-reduction strategies as a core principle of tobacco control, and recently stated: “If the great majority of tobacco smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit would switch… to using an alternative source of nicotine with lower health risks… this would represent a significant contemporary public health benefit.”

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According to the Mission Statement, there are new technologies that comply with this principle. One such is the “electronic cigarette” — or, as WHO calls it, Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, ENDS — which delivers nicotine without burning tobacco. The vapor from e-cigarettes and personal vaporisers contains very low levels of potentially-harmful chemicals”.

According to the experts, Public Health England recently concluded vaping is at least 95 per cent safer than smoking and acknowledged that e-cigarettes can be an effective aid to quitting smoking.

The experts said they support “government policies that seek to remove barriers to the availability of better, safer, non-combustible nicotine delivery products, with appropriate quality standards and regulations”.

They added that disproportionate restrictions — regulation of e-cigarettes as medical products, restrictions similar to tobacco cigarettes, advertising bans — will make such products expensive and create misconceptions that they are as harmful as smoking.

The coalition called such measures “counter-productive”.

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The Tobacco Harm Reduction Expert Group includes Konstantinos E. Farsalinos of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center in Athens; Prof. Riccardo Polosa of the Institute for Internal and Emergency Medicine, University of Catania; Christopher Russell of the Centre for Substance Use Research, Glasgow; Amir Ullah Khan, member of the Telangana government’s Commission of Inquiry on Socioeconomic Conditions; Julian Morris, Vice President of Research at Reason Foundation; and Prof. Rajesh N. Sharan of the Department of Biochemistry, North-Eastern Hill University. (IANS)

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