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expert reaction to WHO report on nicotine and tobacco products

The World Health Organisation (WHO), have released a new report on nicotine and tobacco products. 


Prof Peter Hajek, Director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), said:

“Smoking-related cancer, heart disease and lung disease will eventually disappear as smoking is made obsolete by much less risky nicotine products that do not include combustion.  Given the large benefits this will bring to public health, it is paradoxical that the WHO has adopted a strident anti-vaping stance which risks preventing this transition.  This new report continues in that tradition, calls for banning the less risky alternatives while tobacco is freely sold, misreports evidence, and should be accompanied by a big red health warning.”


Dr Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, Senior Research Fellow in Health Behaviours, University of Oxford, said:

News that the WHO has branded electronic cigarettes as ‘harmful’ will come as a concern to many people who have switched from e-cigarettes to smoking, or are considering doing so.  E-cigarettes are not risk free and people who do not smoke should not start vaping.  However, for people who do smoke, it’s incredibly important public health messaging is clear – traditional cigarettes are uniquely deadly, and can be very hard to quit.  Nicotine is addictive but it’s not what causes the harm from smoking.  Evidence shows e-cigarettes with nicotine can help people quit smoking and that they are considerably less harmful than smoking.  The latest report from the WHO should not discourage people who smoke from switching to an alternative product – one which evidence shows is less harmful to them and those around them.”


Prof John Britton, Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology, University of Nottingham, said:

“This report demonstrates that, sadly, the WHO still doesn’t understand the fundamental difference between addiction to tobacco smoking, which kills millions of people every year, and addiction to nicotine, which doesn’t. The WHO is also evidently still content with the hypocrisy of adopting a position which recommends the use of medicinal nicotine products to treat addiction to smoking, but advocates prohibition of consumer nicotine products which do the same thing, but better. The WHO is right that non-smokers, especially children, should be discouraged from using any nicotine product. But for the more than one billion tobacco smokers in the world, electronic nicotine delivery systems are part of the solution, not the problem.”


Declared interests

Dr Jamie Hartmann-Boyce: “No conflicts of interest.”

Prof Peter Hajek: “No conflict of interest.”

None others received.

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