Another anonymously-written WHO paper is misleading Parties to #COP10

The one where it is suggested nicotine pouches should be banned because they are popular

Two weeks ago, Copwatch drew attention to an anonymously-written paper designed to gaslight Parties at COP10 about disposable vapes.

There is a similar attempt at gaslighting going on with a second document in the same series, this time on nicotine pouches. It begins by setting out its stall. “As we will illustrate below, pouches are offered in an extraordinary array of flavours”, before misdirecting Parties as to the threat.

It claims that “Studies have shown that flavoured tobacco products disproportionately attract young people.(12) Flavours promote tobacco use among youthful starters and contribute to the onset of nicotine addiction.(13,14)”

The references are listed and it is clear they have nothing to do with nicotine pouches.

Pouches are not “flavoured tobacco products”. Nor are they e-cigarettes and there is no evidence that they are attracting children. If there was, surely the WHO would be quick to reference research to that effect. Evidently there is none, so some misdirection was required.

Starting with this false premise of a threat to youth, the anonymous authors then spend 19 pages just talking about flavours and colours as if they are inherently a bad thing. At no point is there any balance applied by giving the counterargument that they may attract smokers away from far more dangerous combustible tobacco.

Most of the recommendations derive from the FCTC/COP/10/7 report which we covered here. It claims to cover “technical matters related to Articles 9 and 10 of the WHO FCTC (Regulation of contents and disclosure of tobacco products, including waterpipe, smokeless tobacco and heated tobacco products)” but takes the opportunity – beyond its mandate – to make sweeping recommendations on banning nicotine pouches.

And what evidence do they cite in favour of complete prohibition? The first reason they give is that they are popular. Heaven forbid!

The WHO is also appalled that pouches “have attractive properties, such as appealing flavours, and can be used discreetly without the stigma of smoking.” One would have thought this is a winning combination for an alternative to combustible tobacco, especially as these products are virtually indistinguishable from nicotine gum in terms of health risks. They work in exactly the same way, after all.

Instead, the WHO recommends that countries extend surveillance of these products, and regulate them to “to prevent all forms of marketing”.

They also suggest that countries “regulate non-therapeutic nicotine products in the same manner as products of similar appearance, content and use.” What does this mean, you ask? It means regulating nicotine pouches the same way as snus. And that means, in many countries, prohibition.

Frustratingly, it seems that the EU supports the WHO in making these recommendations, as revealed by MEP Charlie Weimers on social media.

So here we are in the familiar “quit-or-die” territory that the WHO and other tobacco control institutions are so fond of. If they have their way and nicotine pouches are banned despite no currently-known harms to their use, you can either go back to deadly smoking or buy them from the already dubious black market where there are no controls on ingredients and nicotine strength. Where child-friendly packaging is not only heavily prevalent but almost seems obligatory and where it is anyone’s guess who items on sale are made by.

Regulations, by their very nature, are supposed to reduce potential harms in the population. Yet these suggestions by an anonymous author of the nicotine pouches paper, and a WHO panel acting outside its remit, will remove products from the legal market which are significantly safer than smoking, enshrine illegal enterprises as the only supplier of a very simple-to-make product, while also offering protection for sales of combustible tobacco, the most dangerous nicotine delivery option out there.

Copwatch does not know whether this should be described as WHO personnel not thinking things through, or simply not thinking.