WHO “abused authority”, says harm reduction charity

A leading harm reduction charity has criticised the World Health Organization for abusing conflict of interest rules to avoid answering awkward questions. In a statement released on Tuesday the New Nicotine Alliance revealed that the health agency had inaccurately categorised them as working in the interests of the tobacco industry.

The background to this situation is that, in early May, the WHO released a draft of its latest report on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and invited responses from interested organisations. NNA submitted a response, addressing the WHO’s concerns – which are mostly spurious – about reduced-harm nicotine products, and urging it to adopt a more evidence-based approach to harm reduction.

To back up their position the NNA included multiple references in the response, including Public Health England, the Royal College of Physicians, the European Commission and even the WHO’s own position statement on harm reduction. The response outlined the significant reductions in smoking achieved by countries that take a positive approach to reduced-harm products such as e-cigarettes and snus, and stressed that it’s smoke that causes disease, not nicotine or even tobacco itself.

However, instead of answering NNA’s points, the WHO decided to exclude them from the discussion. When their summary of responses was published the NNA was listed among “feedback received from entities with which WHO does not engage” – which, as the section header explains, means tobacco and arms manufacturers. NNA have submitted a complaint at being included in this category, but have received no reply.


Ohio activists call for vape tax

A coalition of anti-THR activists is pushing Ohio’s state legislators to put higher taxes on vapour products and chewing tobacco. Recent tax rises have left these products mostly untouched, focusing on more dangerous combustible tobacco; now hardliners want to see them hit just as hard.

The charge is being led by the American Cancer Society, which ahs emerged as a leading opponent of less harmful products. According to ACA spokesman Jeff Stephens, increasing the price of alternatives to smoking “will ultimately help keep young people from smoking.” According to Stephens many young people “initiate tobacco use” with e-cigarettes and then move on to combustible products; however, he offered no evidence to support this claim.

A previous attempt to impose punitive taxes on vapour products was thrown out of the Ohio House of Representatives last April. The measure, part sponsored by Governor John Kasich, would have imposed a uniform tax on all tobacco products, including e-cigs. However, lawmakers said it would just push Ohioans to buy their nicotine in neighbouring states, where taxes are already lower.


Vaping faces legal dilemma in Philippines

An official of the Philippines’ Food and Drug Administration raised the possibility of a crackdown on vaping on Thursday, saying that no vapour products are registered with the agency and therefore all e-cigarettes are “technically illegal” in the country. The comment, made as part of an event to mark World No Tobacco Day, indicates that the government remains hostile to harm reduction.

Under a 2014 administrative order issued by the Department of Health, all vapour products must be submitted for clinical trials before being put on the market. So far none have been submitted. FDA official Anna Rivera acknowledged that the requirement for clinical trials is putting manufacturers off; e-cigarettes, as a consumer product, have little chance of meeting the standards required by a clinical trial. However, as the Philippines considers vapour products to be smoking cessation aids, these trials are obligatory. Yet again, tobacco control is letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.


France had “a million fewer smokers” in 2017

New figures released by France’s health ministry on Monday show that the number of French people who smoke daily fell by around a million between 2016 and 2017. In 2016 35.1% of the French smoked occasionally, and 29.4% smoked daily; a year later those numbers were down to 31.9% and 26.9%.

According to health minister Agnes Buzyn, the reduction was due to increased tobacco taxes, plain packaging and state funding for nicotine patches. Buzyn made no mention of the rapid growth of vaping in France. However, at the press conference where the figures were announced, public health chief Francois Bourdillon admitted that vapour products were “clearly” the cessation method of choice.