WHO leader issues warning on ‘harmful’ e-cigarettes

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The head of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday noted that while many countries have made “progress in the fight against” the “tobacco epidemic,” the marketing of e-cigarettes toward young people could have “harmful” health outcomes going forward. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gave the warning in a statement along with the release of the “WHO report on the global tobacco epidemic 2021,” the eighth study from the United Nations’s public health agency measuring progress on efforts to curb the sale of tobacco and nicotine products worldwide. 

While the report found that more than four times as many people are covered under WHO-recommended tobacco control measures than in 2007, it expressed concern that children who use “electronic nicotine delivery systems, such as ‘e-cigarettes,’” are “up to three times more likely to use tobacco products in the future.” 

“Nicotine is highly addictive. Electronic nicotine delivery systems are harmful, and must be better regulated,” Tedros said. 

He went on to argue that in places where e-cigarettes are not banned, “governments should adopt appropriate policies to protect their populations from the harms of electronic nicotine delivery systems, and to prevent their uptake by children, adolescents and other vulnerable groups.”

The WHO found in its report that 84 countries currently “lack safe-guards to protect from unregulated proliferation of electronic nicotine delivery systems.” 

However, 32 nations have completely banned the sale of e-cigarettes, with an additional 79 implementing measures to limit their sale in public places, prohibit advertising or require that they display health warnings. 

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who serves as the WHO Global Ambassador for Noncommunicable Diseases and Injuries, said in a statement that e-cigarette advertising has emerged amid a decline in normal cigarette sales. 

“More than 1 billion people around the world still smoke,” Bloomberg said. “And as cigarette sales have fallen, tobacco companies have been aggressively marketing new products — like e-cigarettes and heated-tobacco products — and lobbied governments to limit their regulation.” 

“Their goal is simple: to hook another generation on nicotine,” he added. “We can’t let that happen.”

Tobacco and e-cigarette companies have continued to attract pushback over claims that they specifically advertise their products to children and adolescents. 

Late last month, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein (D) announced that e-cigarette company Juul would pay $40 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that its marketing tactics played a role in the unprecedented surge in youth vaping. 

Juul, which also faces lawsuits in at least a dozen other states, did not admit any wrongdoing, though it did agree to make changes to its sales and advertising as part of the settlement.

Tags Big Tobacco e-cigarettes Electronic cigarette Juul Michael Bloomberg Nicotine North Carolina Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus vaping vaping ban vaping products WHO World Health Organization
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