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    Posted June 10, 2014 by

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    Don't classify electronic cigarettes as tobacco product: Top scientists pledge WHO


    Recently, a group of fifty scientists and public health experts has urged the World Health Organization (WHO) not to classify electronic cigarettes as tobacco products. The group argues that doing so may endanger a potential health innovation that could save millions of people addicted to smoking. This group, comprising of eminent scientists from all major countries, sent an open letter to the WHO's Director General stating that electronic cigarettes are actually beneficial as they help people quit smoking.


    However, Penny Woods, British Lung Foundation's chief executive, responded to the letter from the scientists by saying that e-cigarettes may help people quit smoking, but their unregulated status may pose a problem. She added that the impact of their use on public health is unknown. From some leaked documents, it was found that the UN health agency, which considers the e-cigarettes a threat, is likely to classify them alongside other nicotine products. If this is put into practice, all countries will be pushed into implementing tough measures for restricting the demand of e-cigarettes. Such measures could be banning advertisements, increasing taxes, avoiding use in public places and issuing health warnings.


    David Sweanor argues that we can get rid of cigarettes with the help of technology (e-cigarettes), and this could be the greatest breakthroughs in public health. He argues that the 1.3 billion smokers worldwide will do far less harm to their health if they use e-cigarettes. In his viewpoint, the hazardous effects attributed to tobacco are due to the toxic gases and tar that enter the lungs, and the non-combustible, low-risk form of nicotine has no such effects. According to him, research indicated that the majority of the people using e-cigarettes are the ones trying to quit smoking. Sweanor is a law professor working on tobacco control.


    The use of e-cigarettes that come with battery-powered cartridges for producing nicotine vapor increased exponentially in the last few years. It is estimated that e-cigarettes worth $3 billion were sold in 2013 alone. Their growing popularity attracted even more controversy. As they are new in the market, there is no long-term evidence to decide whether they are safe or not. Some experts even raise concerns that e-cigarettes could increase tobacco addiction, especially in minors. Conversely, there is no credible evidence to support this argument. However, Health Canada is continuously discouraging the use of e-cigarettes by saying that such nicotine products are sold without compliance with the Food and Drugs Act and hence they are illegal.


    Sensing the major change in the smoking trend, prominent tobacco companies like Big Tobacco are eying this opportunity to invest in making e-cigarettes. Kingsley Wheaton, British American Tobacco's director of regulatory and corporate affairs, feels that the classification of electronic cigarettes as tobacco products could make it hard for smokers to access the low-risk alternatives.


    The WHO made it clear that they is yet to discuss the proposed regulations in the key meeting on the FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) which is scheduled in Moscow for October 13-18. While the organization is holding its cards close to its chest, Gerry Stimson, a professor at the Imperial College, London described that WHO is in a bizarre situation. He added that they wanted to make sufficient noise before the strict rules on e-cigarettes become too set.

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