The World No Tobacco Day 2020 is here,with the year not having been such a stellar success for the World Health Organization’s FCTC efforts on its own terms, especially in developing countries.They have yet again missed their target of reducing cancer,heart and lung disease,as 8 million more people will die from smoking related diseases this year. The WHO stated through the FCTC that it’s mandate is to progressively reduce tobacco consumption, but is failing because it is not designed to be independent.
It is a well known fact that the World Health Organization achieves consensus on tobacco control and vaping through secrecy and media censorship.We should be realistic and honest about the shortcomings that have engulfed the leadership of an organization that is deeply flawed, but that is still the jewel of the international health community.Since cigarette consumption has been falling for decades in developed countries, it would seem logical to consider what is causing the decline. Broadly speaking, studies have found that in most countries the main drivers of reduced smoking rates have been some combination of: (1) increased public awareness of the dangers associated with smoking, (2) an increase in the price of cigarettes (including taxes), and (3) the availability of low risk alternatives and cessation products/ assistance.
Today,it is undeniable that demand for cigarettes has fallen as a result of smokers switching to less harmful products, such as snus , heat-not-burn,nicotine pouches and electronic cigarettes. Harm reduction products are serving as powerful and effective smoking cessation tools. They are providing smokers worldwide with reduced-risk alternatives to cigarettes and other forms of combustible tobacco.
The W.H.O has been strongly supportive of harm reduction in other contexts — for example the use of condoms to reduce HIV transmission — it has been far less supportive when it comes to tobacco harm reduction. Originally,the World Health Organization recognized harm reduction as an integral part of tobacco control but later changed stance in unclear circumstances. The fact that this secrecy is being used to reinforce an apparent hostility to new, less harmful products in general and electronic cigarettes in particular is disturbing.
Nicotine replacement products such as adhesive patch, chewing gum, lozenges, nose spray, and inhaler are on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines.Smoking cessation strategies like gums and patches however, can’t curb the nicotine craving for very long. In fact, W.H.O recommended nicotine patches were branded a total waste of time !
Safer nicotine products should be recommended by the World Health Organization to smokers unable — or at least unwilling — to achieve cessation through complete nicotine and tobacco abstinence; who continue smoking despite the very real and obvious adverse health consequences. We must not forget that it has been projected that 1 billion people will die from smoking this century despite the W.H.O’s efforts.
The W.H.O has acknowledged that “People cannot achieve their fullest health potential unless they are able to take control of those things which determine their health,” yet in the guise of the framework convention on tobacco control (F.C.T.C) it has sought instead to promote only top-down solutions, fundamentally ignoring the potential for people to improve their own health by choosing less harmful alternatives to cigarettes. It seems to have taken this approach in large part because of a presumption that “There is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health policy interests.” Yet the evidence suggests this is not correct.
This year, W.H.O’s World No Tobacco day is protecting children from the industry. Policies must continue to dissuade minors, ex-smokers, and non-smokers from using tobacco and nicotine containing products, while making better alternatives to cigarettes available to adults who smoke. The convention’s tobacco control policies should encompass tobacco harm reduction strategies as well as supply and demand measures that encourage smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke to switch to lower risk alternatives.
Millions of smokers will continue to suffer & die from smoking related diseases unless the W.H.O embraces harm reduction now.