The Ninth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP9) to the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) took place on November 8-13, 2021. During the conference, the delegates debated over measures to reduce smoking-related death and disease.
According to the earlier announcement of the FCTC Secretariat, in this year’s COP (COP9), evident on vaping and heat-not-burn products will be presented to the Parties, however, no decision will be made until COP10 in 2023.
The WHO FCTC is a legally binding treaty that requires member countries — or Parties — to implement its measures as calls for more rigorous regulations on tobacco marketing and increased taxation of tobacco products, in a bid to reduce tobacco uses and exposures to tobacco smoke from both demand and supply ends.
In fact, the WHO once recognized in 2020, “completely substituting electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems (EN&NNDS) for combustible tobacco cigarettes reduces users’ exposure to numerous toxicants and carcinogens present in combustible tobacco cigarettes.”
However, in practice, the WHO has rejected reduced-risk products, such as e-cigarettes, as the real-world strategy to improve public health. Instead, the WHO FCTC exhorts its Parties to impose high taxes and bans on all tobacco products, no matter combustible or non-combustible products. The WHO remains doubtful about e-cigarettes and other reduced-risk products, considering them an industry tool to get consumers hooked on nicotine.
In July 2021, the WHO released a report on the global tobacco epidemic 2021. It is the first time that the organization presented data on electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) and argued that ENDS need to be regulated.
Moreover, WHO FCTC COP9 raised more global concerns over biased regulatory guidance, which will undermine vaping’s potential to benefit public health, suggesting a step backward for global public health. For example, in the US, cigarette sales rose in 2020 for first time in two decades. Public health experts warn that House Democrats’ voting on vaping tax without a tax increase in cigarettes will push vapers back to more harmful combustible tobacco.
100 specialists in nicotine science, policy and practice from all over the world has also signed a letter to Parties to the FCTC to encourage WHO to promote the inclusion of tobacco harm reduction into the FCTC. This letter argues that “e-cigarettes are a driver of smoking cessation and tobacco harm reduction presents significant public health opportunities”.
The British Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (BCCP) has also encouraged the Philippines government to join United Kingdom in accepting a science-based approach in combating smoking problem ahead of the WHO FCTC COP 9.
As an advocate for Tobacco Harm Reduction, the U.K government recently announces its plan to integrate medically licensed e-cigarettes into NHS prescription to reduce smoking rates. Since 2014, Public Health England(PHE) has issued a series of reports on latest evidence on the effects of vaping products on smoking cessation. The agency also concluded that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than combustible tobacco.
The global adoption of reduced-risk products, including e-cigarette, for the benefit of public health, is inevitable. Global health regulators should seize the “single biggest public health opportunity’, according to New York University Professor David Abrams.
In addition, the vaping industry players have also been proactively exploring the applications of atomization technology in healthcare and other fields, transforming into broader atomization healthcare and wellness businesses. For example, British America Tobacco’s US bio-tech subsidiary is working on a potential vaccine for COVID-19 while Philip Morris has acquired inhaled-drug firm OtiTopic and asthma inhaler maker Vectura. Committed to building the world’s leading atomization technology platform, SMOORE, the world’s largest vaping manufacturer, is also about to launch its atomized healthcare and beauty technologies in early December.