FCTC Secretariat uses Australian propaganda to influence COP NGO observers

Following on from our last post highlighting how the WHO has been cherry-picking countries to discuss the future of tobacco control in a secret meeting, we now find the anti-smoking anti-nicotine arm of the WHO cherry-picking information to manipulate the NGO observers to the COP. 

Last week,the FCTC Secretariat sent out the email below emphasising a highly dubious review by the Australian National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH).


Date: Mon, Jun 20, 2022 at 7:15 PM
Subject: Research on e-cigarette use and public health assessment in Australia
To:

Dear NGOs observers to the COP,

The Convention Secretariat and WHO has recently received the visit of Professor Emily Banks, one of Australia’s leading researchers in e-cigarettes and tobacco control. Professor Banks is the Head of the Centre for Public Health Data and Policy, at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health (NCEPH), based at the Australian National University. We would like to share with you information on the last research project she has led in Australia.

 The NCEPH conducted a review of the health outcomes in relation to e-cigarette use and a public health assessment of e-cigarettes for Australia, as commissioned by the Australian Department of Health on 27 February 2019. This global systematic review is the most comprehensive review of vaping-related health impacts to date.

 To date, at least 32 countries ban the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes, 79 countries – including Australia – allow them to be sold while fully or partially regulating them and the remaining 84 countries do not regulate them at all. In Australia, nicotine e-cigarettes are legal only on prescription, for the purpose of smoking cessation.

 In Australia, however, as of 2019, the majority of e-cigarette use is not for smoking cessation, particularly at young ages.

 The systematic review of e-cigarettes and health outcomes (Review) published by NCEPH on 7 April 2022 is one of a series of reports produced as part of this project. The Review concludes that:

  • There is strong or conclusive evidence that nicotine e-cigarettes can be harmful to health and uncertainty regarding their impacts on a range of important health and disease outcomes.
  • The use of nicotine e-cigarettes increases the risk of a range of adverse health outcomes, including: poisoning; toxicity from inhalation (such as seizures); addiction; trauma and burns; lung injury; and smoking uptake, particularly in youth.
  • Nicotine e-cigarettes are highly addictive, underpinning increasing and widespread use among children and adolescents in many settings.
  • The most common pattern of e-cigarette use is dual e-cigarette use and tobacco smoking, which is generally considered an adverse outcome.
  • There is strong evidence that non-smokers who use e-cigarettes are three times as likely to go on to smoke combustible tobacco cigarettes as non-smokers who do not use e-cigarettes, supportive of a “gateway” effect.
  • There is limited evidence of efficacy of freebase nicotine e-cigarettes as an aid to smoking cessation in the clinical setting.

 The summary brief of the review can be found through this link and the full global systematic review is available here. Additional information about the project and resources from the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health are available in this website.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Best regards,
Secretariat of the WHO FCTC


The email repeats conclusions of the review without any objective assessment of the evidence behind them. However, Dr Colin Mendelsohn – member of the Australian Smoking Cessation Guideline Expert Advisory Group who has worked in tobacco treatment for 35 years – has cast a more critical eye on the claims and has noted many debatable, or even false, assertions. 

The review claims that there is “conclusive evidence that the use of e-cigarettes can cause respiratory disease (EVALI) among smokers” which is simply not true. Conversely, it declares that there is “limited evidence of efficacy of freebase nicotine e-cigarettes as an aid to smoking cessation” despite the Cochrane living review – the highest quality of scientific evidence – finding that vaping is twice as effective as using NRT for smoking cessation.

The review also carefully picks research suggesting that vaping leads youth to smoking, ignoring real world evidence that the opposite is true. In all states where vaping has been able to compete with combustible products, youth smoking rates have declined considerably since vaping products have been available and are at historically low levels in the UK and USA. Perhaps the FCTC is not aware of what is happening in the world, which would be quite a failing for a global institution, if true. 

One wonders why, if Colin Mendelsohn can find so many flaws in the NCEPH evidence, the FCTC Secretariat is incapable of doing the same. Or, if they have done, why the FCTC Secretariat is enthusiastically emphasising the review without a note of caution. 

Forgive us for being cynical, but we doubt the FCTC Secretariat sends similar emails to highlight research which shows vaping in a positive light. 

To remind you why this is deeply wrong from the Secretariat, please revisit one of our earlier posts – What’s wrong with FCTC COP? The Secretariat should be impartial, but behaviour such as this reveals that it is working to manipulate the Parties according to its own agenda: 

It is therefore irresponsible, and arguably ethically wrong, to foment doubt on vaping amongst NGOs and Observers via an official email, without balancing the clearly biased Australian review with the increasingly weighty body of evidence which points to major public health benefits in countries where vaping is leading to impressive declines in smoking. 

The FCTC treaty preamble defines its purpose as being to “improve the health of a population by eliminating or reducing their consumption of tobacco products and exposure to tobacco smoke”. Smoke, not nicotine. It seems that the Secretariat has forgotten that.

WHO is invited to the Global Tobacco Regulators Forum?

WHO cherry-picks countries to discuss the future of tobacco control in (another) secret meeting

Have you heard of the Global Tobacco Regulators Forum – no? Nor had we. Even more secret than COP, it’s another WHO meeting organised behind closed doors. GTRF makes Davos look positively transparent.

Here are the results of our search for GTRF on the WHO website:

It is only thanks to UK MP Adam Affriyie’s determination to uncover information about the secretive GTRF that we even know the dates of last year’s meeting.  You can see his persistent Parliamentary questioning here.

Here is the reply from Jo Churchill (then a UK health minister) :

The Fifth meeting of Global Tobacco Regulators Forum (GTRF) took place virtually from 7 to 9 July. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) No Tobacco Unit in the Health Promotion Department hosts the GTRF meetings. Papers for the meetings are not publicly available from the WHO.

Officials from the Department’s tobacco control policy team attended to represent the United Kingdom as leads and experts in tobacco control policy. This year’s meeting was attended by civil servants from the Tobacco Control team. Officials will report back to senior officials and Ministers with any key outcomes. The Department holds notes on previous GTRF forums.

Officials updated the GTRF on the UK’s tobacco control work and evidence-based position on harm reduction alternatives to tobacco, such as e-cigarettes. We also presented global evidence about harm reduction alternatives, and tackle any misinformation. We recognise that they play a vital role in helping smokers to quit and we will continue to advocate for their use as part of a comprehensive approach.

Global Tobacco Regulators Forum Question for Department of Health and Social Care
UIN 27101, tabled on 5 July 2021 https://questions-statements.parliament.uk/written-questions/detail/2021-07-05/27101/

A little more light is shed in this extract from Clive Bates’ blog, The Counterfactual:  

Prohibitionists at work: how the WHO damages public health through hostility to tobacco harm reduction

Although not a Party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the US Federal and Drugs Administration (FDA) has been paying for the GTRF meetings, through two five-year (2013-2018 and 2018-2023) agreements,  totalling over $7 million. 

As we mentioned above, questions have been raised in the UK about these meetings. We have learned that Australia, Canada, France, India,  and Singapore are also said to attend the meetings.

But, what of the remaining countries of the 182 which have ratified FCTC?

As the extract from Clive Bates’ article states, WHO uses GTRF to influence regulators, via the decisions of the 182 Parties to the FCTC.  

The last WHO Study Group Report (TobReg) (LINK) included a reference to a background paper on e-cigarettes and heated tobacco prepared by GTRF , without providing any background on who mandated the report, nor on which countries or experts had been consulted. 

The WHO and FCTC keep working behind closed doors.  FCTC COP excludes key stakeholders, such as nicotine users, the media, tobacco farmers and industry.  Even more shocking is this discovery that the GTRF, which influences COP, may exclude sovereign nations who are signatories to the FCTC.  

As the last Global Tobacco Regulators Forum was held in July last year,  we think the 2022 meeting must coming up soon.

We will bring you more IF we can find it.   If you have any information, leave a comment or use our Contact Us form

#WNTD

#WorldNoTobaccoDay

#THRworks

What’s wrong with FCTC COP?

COP9 #THRworks

Here is a brief list of what we think needs to change. What do you think? Let us know in the comments. Visit the links at the end to explore these issues in more detail. See our Glossary for short explanations of the acronyms.

The WHO approach to tobacco control is not working

  • There are still 1.1 billion smokers worldwide, the same number as in 2000.
  • FCTC methods are failing and, so long as harm reduction is denied to smokers, FCTC’s methods will continue to fail.
Read More »

#COP9 Campaigns

#COP9 #THRWorks

Information on consumer focussed COP9 campaigns. Let us know in the comments – or via our contact us form – about campaigns we have missed.

New Nicotine Alliance UK is calling for consumers to write to their MPs

The real threat from the WHO and what UK consumers can and should do about it

NNA writes that “The World Health Organisation (WHO) is a threat to vapers, not just in other parts of the world, but in the UK too. Consumers have a role to play in protecting reduced risk products that have benefitted us so much and could do for many more smokers in the future.”

#BACKVAPINGSAVELIVES

Another UK based campaign, #BACKVAPINGSAVELIVES has tools to help you with contacting the Department of Health and MPs to let them know how vaping has benefitted you.  Put your short message into the website form and a postcard will be sent to your MP.   

Go to https://backvaping.co.uk/ to watch the short video and for more on the campaign.

#BackVapingSaveLives campaign objectives