Call for Swift Actions to Counter the Emerging Threat of e-cigarettes at WHO Board
Test tube rack stocked with electronic cigarettes.

World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus lauded the success of tobacco control measures at the Wednesday evening session of the Executive Board meeting, but expressed concerns about the growing use of harmful products like e-cigarettes among youth.

He urged member states, “to take swift action to counter this emerging threat” of children being targeted and potentially being made to be customers of the tobacco industry for life.

“Children as young as 10-14 years are vaping because it’s fashionable and it comes in different flavours and colours,” he said, adding that peer pressure was driving this trend – as it had driven cigarette smoking.

“History is repeating itself — the same nicotine but in a different form, a different packaging. And the sad part is this: the industry is saying it’s harm reduction but what has harm reduction got to do with children? To call it harm reduction and deliberately recruit children and use schools as a battleground is dishonest,” he added.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

China showcased its commitment to combating Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), placing particular emphasis on tobacco use.

“China has established a sound mechanism for the comprehensive prevention and treatment of chronic diseases,” said the Chinese representative. They highlighted efforts in “improving monitoring systems, early screening, and comprehensive interventions for major health concerns.”

Although progress continues to be recorded in declining the use of tobacco, member states called for strengthened regulations around tobacco and nicotine products, considering that the efforts are crucial for the health of future generations.

Denmark, meanwhile, threw its full support behind the European Union’s focus on tobacco control and mental health.

The country highlighted a recent political agreement aimed at reducing the consumption of alcohol, nicotine products, and tobacco among children and adolescents. Denmark emphasized the importance of addressing risk factors like tobacco use, with a representative stating, “Ambitious control policies, especially concerning emerging tobacco products, are essential to protect the health of our younger population.”

Maldives also expressed its commitment to addressing tobacco use. The Maldives representative highlighted the nation’s national high-level coordination mechanism, recognizing the challenges faced by small island states in tackling commercial determinants of NCDs.

“Often, we are helpless in addressing the determinants of NCDs, particularly those commercial determinants,” said the Maldives representative, urging WHO to work closely with small island states.

According to the DG’s report on the prevention and management of non-communicable diseases, promotion of mental health and well-being, and treatment and care of mental health conditions, reducing exposure to risk factors in the population is essential for the cost-effective reduction of NCD burden and mortality.

Even though the report stated that 56 countries are currently on track to meeting the voluntary global target of a 30% relative reduction in tobacco use between 2010 and 2025, the DG noted that the rate of decline in the prevalence of tobacco use in all WHO regions and globally is insufficient to meet the voluntary global target for 2025, especially among men. Of around 1.3 billion people still using tobacco, 82% (1.1 billion) are males.

WHO’s Executive Board discusses the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases.

En route COP10

Meanwhile, country representatives are gearing up for the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP10) in Panama, where discussions around cigarette regulations will be at the forefront. The focus is expected to be on the accountability of tobacco companies and the detrimental impacts of extensive lobbying by the tobacco industry.

Sabina Timco Lacazzi, WHO’s Legal Officer, emphasized that “Tobacco is and continues to be a threat” not only to human life and health but also to the planet.

The meeting will take place from 5 – 15 February, bringing parties together for the tenth time to oversee the implementation of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and its special protocol on illicit tobacco trade.

Over a fifth of the world’s population, with the majority in low- and middle-income countries, uses tobacco, leading to over eight million deaths annually, according to the WHO. Despite a decline in the number of tobacco users, the industry’s lobbying efforts often hinder regulatory measures and information campaigns.

Image Credits: Unsplash.

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