WHO Calls for Stronger Electronic Cigarette Regulation

By Paul Gaita 08/28/14

The World Health Organization also wants a ban of indoor use of the product until conclusive proof that exhaled vapor is not harmful.

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A report by the World Health Organization (WHO) has proposed an array of restrictions for electronic cigarettes aimed at reducing both their use among young people and efforts by the tobacco industry to find a greater foothold in the multi-billion dollar industry.

The report, released on August 26 and prepared for presentation by WHO at the United Nations Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, called for a ban on indoor use of e-cigarettes until concrete proof has been established that “exhaled vapor is proven to be not harmful to bystanders.” The report’s authors also called for stronger regulation to make sure that the products contain the same amount of nicotine, and that e-cigarettes sales to minors and candy-type flavors be prohibited.

The report also expressed concern over the involvement of major tobacco companies in the e-cigarette industry, citing Philip Morris International’s purchase of the UK’s Nicocigs as evidence of Big Tobacco’s “increasingly aggressive” interest in this new and lucrative market, which is currently estimated at $3 billion.

The e-cigarette lobby has already proven a potent force in legislative decisions regarding tobacco regulations, having already thwarted a European Commission proposal to regard their product as medicine. A similar proposal by the European Parliament to ban advertising, among other measures, is expected to go into effect without much of its original measures in 2016, due largely to lobbying by the industry.

The WHO report was hailed by many health experts, which hope that the findings will inform policy makers on how to properly legislate e-cigarettes. But others expressed concern that such restrictions will place e-cigarettes in the same category as regular cigarettes without addressing the devices’ potential to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals in tobacco or even reduce the number of smokers. But even if one or more legislative bodies take up the report’s proposals, there is no assurance that they will be signed into law in the near future.

The United Nations tobacco treaty, adopted in 2003 and designed to reduce the vast number of illnesses and deaths caused worldwide by tobacco use, was signed by President George W. Bush in 2004, but has yet to be ratified by the Senate. The Food and Drug Administration also proposed to extend its regulation of tobacco products to include e-cigarettes in April 2014, but also remains stalled. Meanwhile, more than a quarter of a million young people tried e-cigarettes between 2011 and 2013 after nearly a decade of declining smoking rates.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.