Each year, World No Tobacco Day takes place on 31st May to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking. The campaign is run by the World Health organisation (WHO), an organisation which has always remained averse to vaping. Is it time for WHO to recognise evidence-based solutions and stop condemning smokers?

On the surface, a World No Tobacco Day sounds like a great idea; an initiative to help people quit cigarettes and raise awareness of the negative impacts which smoking can have. However, by neglecting one of the most proven quitting aids, vaping, the campaign could irresponsibly have a negative effect.

The WHO’s stance on vaping

The World Health Organisation has been heavily criticised over the years for adopting an anti-vaping approach to tobacco control. Despite an abundance of evidence, their reluctance to recommend vaping has shown little sign of letting up.

In 2014, the WHO introduced a proposal to add heavy restrictions on the advertising of e-cigarettes in the media. The reasoning was supposedly due to a lack of evidence on the relative safety of e-cigarettes. This is somewhat understandable, as the evidence base was still growing, however this stance was upheld in 2016, even after Public Health England had estimated that “e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than smoking” in the previous year. WHO must have either thought this unworthy or simply ignored it.

This trend continued as the WHO recommended an indoor vaping ban in 2017. Needless to say, vaping was not endorsed in the 2017 World No-Tobacco Day. Nor was it in 2018, much to the disgust of New Nicotine Alliance (NNA). At the time, NNA Chairman, Sarah jakes said:

“World No Tobacco Day should be a great opportunity to raise awareness of far safer alternative nicotine products to maximise benefits to public health worldwide. The WHO should be empowering people to take control of their health by way of clear messages on differing risks and the relative safety of nicotine, but this year they have sadly missed the target.”

The World Health Organisation lays out frameworks and proposals for best policies. This guidance is taken on board by various governments but the results aren’t always positive.

The effect of WHO’s draconian vaping stance

In the UK, the government has taken a sensible evidence-based approach to vaping. This has coincided with a decrease in smoking rates and the UK is now recognised as one of the world leader’s in tobacco control. Various other countries have followed suit, experiencing encouraging results, however others have taken the WHO’s ant-vaping word as gospel.

India, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines are just a few of the countries which have particularly strict vaping laws. These include blanket bans with punishments including jail time and up to £10,000 fines.

It comes as little surprise that these countries in question have particularly high smoking rates. Adult prevalence can reach dizzying heights of around 40% in countries with draconian vaping regulations.

World No Tobacco Day, 2019

This year, it appears as though the World Health Organisation will once again neglect vaping in its campaign. Focusing almost entirely on the health implications of smoking, the World No Tobacco Day web page provides little support for smokers.

It does claim that “The campaign serves as a call to action, advocating for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption and engaging stakeholders across multiple sectors in the fight for tobacco control.” 

Unfortunately, the policies it advocates are those covered by the WHO framework. Said framework includes initiatives such as plain tobacco packaging and excess tobacco tax, which have not been proven to effectively tackle tobacco.

While campaigning for stop smoking is of course a good thing, it has the potential to be detrimental. By encouraging unfounded initiatives but dismissing tried and tested ones, policies may be misguided.

Liam Humberstone, Totally Wicked technical director said,

“In the UK we have been fortunate that our government and regulators recognised the benefits of vaping as they emerged. Although at times this recognition felt rather belated, and the transition to a more regulated market was certainly not painless, hundreds of thousands of premature deaths are already being prevented by the direct effects of vaping in the UK.

Worldwide, tobacco kills over 7 million people every year, and the World Health Organisation has a clear responsibility to embrace any intervention that can reduce this number. This has to include any means of harm reduction available, and the evidence on the efficacy of vaping, and of its relative harm to smoking is incontrovertible. How much more time is the WHO willing to waste?”