The World Health Organisation (WHO) has published its July bulletin, containing a paper written by Nick Wilson et al, titled Should e-cigarette use be included in indoor smoking bans?

As the title suggests this paper proposed that e-cigarettes should be ‘prohibited in all smoke-free areas’ and as you would expect the publication has been heavily criticized by experts around the globe, and notably the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies (UKCTAS).

UKCTAS includes recognised names in public health such as John Britton (head of the Royal College of Physicians Tobacco Advisory Group), Ilze Bogdanovich (Cancer Research UK), Ann McNeil (Professor of Tobacco Addiction at King’s College London), and Linda Bauld (Professor of Health Policy at the University of Stirling) and their critique stated that:

“the WHO report fails to accurately present what is already known about e-cigarettes. In particular, the report positions e-cigarettes as a threat rather than an opportunity to reduce smoking; fails to accurately quantify any risks of e-cigarettes compared with smoking and misrepresents existing evidence about any harms to bystanders.”

The report made strong reference to the organisation’s previous study from August 2016 on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) and has therefore received further criticism for being ‘based on rehashed flawed information’.

‘Rehashed flawed information’

The WHO paper is based on three unconvincing arguments. The first claim is that:

“permitting indoor vaping might renormalize tobacco smoking in smoke-free indoor environments and may lead smokers to query: if vaping is permitted, why is smoking not allowed.”

The second being:

“close exposure to vaping among people who have recently quit smoking or vaping might trigger them to relapse to smoking.”

And the third:

“The levels of some metals, such as nickel and chromium, in second-hand aerosols are not only higher than background air, but also higher than second-hand smoke. Furthermore, compared to background”.

Nick Wilson et al then concludes by saying:

“We believe that, from a public health perspective, central and local governments should adopt regulations that effectively determine that all designated indoor smoke-free areas are also vape-free areas.”

There is evidence against all three claims that the recent WHO report makes, and experts in the Philippines are urging anti-tobacco advocates to ‘realise that the WHO is not infallible and repeating wrong information on e-cigarettes will not make it correct’.

UK Government’s department of Health back evidence-based innovation

The WHO report comes within just days of the UK government Department of Health publishing a policy titled – Towards a Smokefree Generation – A Tobacco Control Plan for England’. This report features a much more balanced argument regarding e-cigarettes and how they should be utilised to improve tobacco harm reduction.

With regards to vaping in public places, this publication states:

“PHE recommends that e-cigarette use is not covered by smokefree legislation and should not routinely be included in the requirements of an organisation’s smokefree policy”.

It certainly seems that the WHO are dismissing the positive effects of e-cigarettes and grasping on to uncertain arguments against the devices and the judgement from public health experts and the contrast in views from Public Health England showcases this vividly.