WHO warns against e-cigarettes - strongly criticised

British scientists rage 'WHO is spreading misleading information'

WHO's new position statement on e-cigarettes has been heavily criticised by independent researchers. The WHO, which updated its information on vejpning at the beginning of the year, says that e-cigarettes are harmful to health and the environment and that the method does not work for smoking cessation. In addition, the WHO states that researchers do not know if they are less harmful than regular cigarettes..

"By minimising and ignoring the independent research, the information is misleading. The WHO guidelines are based on a lot of inaccuracies," says John Britton, doctor and manager at British Institute for Tobacco and Alcohol Research at the University of Nottingham, to Science Media Centre.

WHO goes against independent studies

Mr Britton refers to the large body of research evidence that clearly indicates the opposite of what the WHO says. These are the studies that lie behind UK legislation on e-cigarettes.

"Among other things, we have several clinical studies that clearly show that e-cigarettes are effective in quitting smoking. They are also more effective than the methods referred to by the WHO. The WHO claims that 'we do not knowIf e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes. But we know, today, that the vapour contains an fraction of the harmful substances found in tobacco smoke" says John Britton.

The British Medical Association and several other UK health organisations have previously stated that vejpning only represents 5 per cent of the risk compared to tobacco smoking. and that the long-term effects on health are likely to be small. 

"By choosing to completely disregard the available independent research, the WHO is engaging in the dissemination of grossly misleading information" says John Britton to Sciencemag.org

E-cigarettes - not heart disease

He is joined by addiction researcher Professor Peter Hajek at Queen Mary's University in London.

"The WHO is tarnishing its reputation and unfortunately losing its credibility. Virtually every statement in the document is wrong. They write that vejping leads to heart disease, when the evidence points to the opposite. They claim that the vapour from e-cigarettes has a negative impact on the environment, even though there is no solid evidence to support this. They write that vejpning attracts young non-smokers, when the evidence points to the opposite. Only one per cent of young people who use e-cigarettes are former non-smokers." says Peter Hajek

Damaging public health in the world

Since the criticism, the WHO has changed parts of its message, but not all of it. And the Peter Hajekwho has been studying e-cigarettes since they appeared on the market over 10 years ago, says the WHO's approach could harm public health worldwide.

"The author should be held accountable for this clearly misleading document. It is likely to discourage smokers from choosing a less harmful alternative," said Mr Hajek.

John Britton and Peter Hajek point out that the WHO is wrongly using the recent lung damage in the USA as an argument in favour of vejpning can damage the lungs. This, they say, is deeply unfortunate.

"The research shows that the lung damage in the US was caused by improperly manufactured products containing marijuana mixed with the substance e-acetat. The substance is not used in regulated e-liquid and has nothing to do with regular vejp products, says Peter Hajek to the Science Media Centre.

Bans in many countries

According to the WHO, 30 countries in the world have banned e-cigarettes and more are considering it. The organisation is generally calling for tougher legislation. E-cigarettes should not be promoted as an alternative to cigarettes, says the WHO.

According to the UK's Department of Health, e-cigarettes are helping over 50 000 Britons per year to stop smoking. A major study from New Zealand has found that e-cigarettes are twice as effective like other nicotine preparations (patches and gum). UK authorities note that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than regular cigarettes and that vejpning can be used as a smoking cessation method.

WHO statement on e-cigarettes

Latest UK Health Authority research on vejpning

Brittisk study on e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation method

ScienceMag article on WHO and vejpning

Statements from British scientists in the Science Media Centre

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