As the global tobacco control conference unfolds, a group of experts has urged the WHO to frame policies that improve access to less harmful substitutes to cigaretteslike e-cigarettes which can aid smokers quit the deadly habit.
According to the Coalition of leading Tobacco Harm Reduction Experts, the use of non-combustible nicotine delivery products has led to a fall in the number of smokers in several countries.
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"In the European Union the use of such products has helped more than six million people quit smoking and nine million more have reduced smoking. Smoking prevalence is declining in all countries where e-cigarettes are readily available," according to a press statement.
Given that smoking cessation medications have not been very successful, public health experts have often "recommended that smokers be encouraged and assisted to switch completely to less harmful substitutes", it said.
One such substitute is the "electronic cigarette" (which the WHO refers to as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems - ENDS), which deliver nicotine without burning tobacco.
"Relative to cigarette smoke, the vapor from e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers contains very low levels of potentially harmful chemicals.
"Even nicotine itself is largely benign - contrary to widespread misconceptions - and is already approved for long-term use through nicotine replacement therapies," according to the Coalition of Experts.
To bolster their argument, the group has also cited Public Health England which recently concluded that vaping is at least 95 per cent safer than smoking, acknowledging that e-cigarettes can be an effective aid to quitting smoking.
In their mission statement, the group has pressed for "policies that seek to remove barriers to the availability of better, safer, non-combustible nicotine delivery products, with appropriate quality standards and regulations."
They have also sought removal of disproportionate restrictions, such as regulation of e-cigarettes as medical products, or treating them at par with tobacco cigarettes, as well as bans on advertising as such measures hinder access to safer alternatives thereby unintentionally ensuring tobacco cigarettes continue to be bought.
One of the principles of WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is 'harm reduction'.
Article 1 of FCTC defines 'tobacco control' as "a range of supply, demand and harm reduction strategies that aim to improve the health of a population by eliminating or reducing their consumption of tobacco products and exposure to tobacco smoke."
The group of experts has sought policies in sync with this principle of harm reduction.
The push for safer alternatives to cigarettes comes in the backdrop of WHO's Conference of the Parties (COP7) on FCTC, which is underway and where India hopes to push for smokeless tobacco as one of the agendas of the meeting.
Effectiveness of the Electronic Cigarette: An Eight-Week Flemish Study with Six-Month Follow-up on Smoking Reduction, Craving and Experienced Benefits and Complaints
Conclusion In a series of controlled lab sessions with e-cig-naïve tobacco smokers, second-generation e-cigs were shown to be immediately and highly effective in reducing abstinence-induced cigarette craving and withdrawal symptoms, while not resulting in increases in eCO. Ad libitum use of e-cigs—in between and until six months after the lab sessions—resulted in remarkable reductions in or (biologically confirmed) complete abstinence from tobacco smoking in almost half of the participants who had no intention to quit smoking. Eight months after the start of the study 21% of all participants were completely abstinent from tobacco cigarettes. Similar reduction/cessation rates were obtained with guided versus non-guided switching to e-cigs. Part of the observed efficacy of e-cigs in this study may be related to the fact that they allowed to maintain relatively high blood nicotine levels and showed an excellent experienced benefits/complaints ratio, especially in comparison with continued tobacco smoking. Larger randomized controlled trials in smokers wanting to quit and in clinical groups of people suffering from smoking-related disease are now needed to confirm and expand these encouraging observations.