The WHO: Masters of misinformation

Move over Pinocchio, you’re an amateur compared with the WHO

Harm reduction advocates who use social media have alerted Copwatch to quite a phenomenon occurring with posts submitted by WHO accounts on X (formerly Twitter) in 2024. Instead of getting away with sharing all manner of misinformation without consequence, as has been the case in the recent past, the Community Notes system has been challenging many of the organisation’s claims. 

Tell us more! 

In January, the WHO Western Pacific region was called out twice in a day. First, with a post claiming that to say vaping is less harmful than smoking is a “myth”. The clearly misleading tweet soon appeared with a correction underneath highlighting to all users that the WHO was spreading a falsehood. Later, the same account was also caught trying to insinuate that e-cigarettes are unusual in being liable to explode if the batteries are not treated correctly. The correction pointed out that there are far more instances of cell phone batteries suffering the same fate. 

Next up was the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Office (EMRO) which also tried to suggest that “vape and heated tobacco” are “not safer alternatives to cigarettes”, a clear lie. Soon, a corrective note appeared citing over 100 scientific items of research – many from highly-respected governmental organisations – saying the opposite. 

Not wishing to be left out, the WHO Mothership account joined the misinformation party by dishonestly claiming that vaping causes seizures in users “within 24 hours.” This, too, was shot down with a note citing sources to show that the WHO was being disingenuous or is simply incapable of correctly reading scientific articles. 

EMRO once again tried their hand at being economical with facts on April 12th, with two posts which quickly received the same treatment. One warning people they would suffer cardiovascular effects, risk being blown up, lose their unborn baby, poison their children, and harm bystanders when they vape drew a response debunking every one of the false claims. On the same day, another claiming that “all tobacco and nicotine products are extremely damaging for health” was challenged with a note pointing out that there is a continuum of risk with nicotine products (which the WHO is aware of but doesn’t like to publicise). 

The WHO’s campaign to weaponize every half-truth, falsehood and bare-faced lie in its armoury to stop people quitting smoking with vapes continued with the WHO Europe account contributing further dishonesty. It posted the long-debunked claim that vaping is a youth gateway to smoking, only to be served a community note hours later effortlessly disproving the propaganda. 

On this evidence, it is becoming fair to say that, whatever time of day it is where you are in the world, a WHO employee has probably already dreamed up at least one lie since waking up.

What happens next?
It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall of WHO offices when they see that their cleverly-crafted misleading of the global public is called out. It must be galling that they are being challenged on their mendacity. Where do they go from here?

Copwatch would suggest that a good way of avoiding being embarrassed by a community note on X is to post only truthful statements backed up by rigorous scientific evidence. It is what the WHO was originally formed to do, after all.

COPWATCH #COP10 articles

Here is a list of Copwatch’s #COP10 articles, listed with the most recent first.

5 – 9 February 2024
Copwatch live
Copwatch live reports during COP10 week

8 February 2024
Interesting country statements made at #COP10
Countries gave statements during agenda item 5 at COP10. These were live streamed over days 1 & 2. In this article we post the individual statements which we think are interesting, with a brief explanation of why we have included them.

4 February 2024
#COP10 is here!
“The official event takes place in the Panama Convention Center. There are also unofficial events taking place, notably the Good COP event. Here we give you information about the official and unofficial events.”

26 January 2024
#COP10 – full steam ahead
“The propaganda assault on safer nicotine products and those who advocate for them is at fever pitch. Bloomberg has poured a lot of money – ‘Bloombucks’ – into attacking tobacco harm reduction and journalists for hire are working overtime to smear anyone who speaks up for it.” 

10 December
#COP10 Catch Up
“Quite a bit happened with COP10 since we last posted. Here we bring you up to speed.
Copwatch had been reporting since April that there was a problem with the contract to put on COP10.”

7 November
Even bigger big trouble in little Panama
“The upshot is that, with less than 2 weeks to go, the WHO has booked a convention centre in which to hold COP10 but has no-one to organise it. Delegates may be arriving in Panama City all dressed up but with nowhere to go.”

3 November
FCTC: Does it work? #COP10
“This supplementary document does a far better job than the ‘main document’(10/4) in describing progress made against the ultimate objective, which is to reduce death and disease from smoking.”

31 October
Another anonymously-written WHO paper is misleading Parties to #COP10
“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.”

27 October
Human rights alert at #COP10
“The FCTC Secretariat is working behind the scenes to impose a narrow view on human rights and tobacco within the UN system and amongst countries (the Parties to the Convention).” 

25 October
A vaper’s call to the delegations to #COP10
“Here we publish a powerful plea from a vaper in the Philippines to the delegates who will be meeting at COP10 in Panama next month.”

23 October
FCTC budget: nice work if you can get it
Here Copwatch brings you what you need to know about the COP10 documents relating to the FCTC budget. This covers three documents:  FCTC/COP/10/17, FCTC/COP/10/18, FCTC/COP/10/19 Rev.1

16 October
The WHO publishes anonymously-written papers designed to gaslight Parties at COP10
Copwatch has detailed many instances of the WHO and FCTC Secretariat playing fast and loose with evidence or cherry-picking research to suit its anti-harm reduction agenda. It is unscientific and shameful but nothing we have not seen before. But two new reports, on disposable vapes and nicotine pouches, have been published on a separate page to the main COP10 menu which seem specifically designed to mislead COP10 delegates based on nothing more than opinion.

10 October
COP10 documents guide: FCTC/COP/10/4
“Produced by the Convention Secretariat, the subject for the report is ‘Global progress in implementation of the WHO FCTC’.”

28 September
Alternative reading list for #COP10 delegates 
COPWATCHERS will notice that tobacco harm reduction is absent from the official documents, with no consideration given to the opportunities offered by safer nicotine products.   Here we have compiled a list of articles to round off the COP10 delegates’ education.

24 August
#COP10 documents guide: FCTC/COP/10/9
“Having airily skipped over the yawning chasm of missing research that they were supposed to have gathered on heated tobacco in just four pages, the FCTC/COP/10/9 document then spends the rest of the 18 pages discussing what bans and restrictions should be put in place.”

18 August
More trouble in little Panama
“In June, Copwatch mentioned, in passing, that a series of nationwide protests and blockades had taken place in COP10 host country, Panama, recently. Cost-of-living concerns, mistrust of government officials, poverty, inequality and corruption have led to much discontent.”

7 August
#COP10 documents guide: FCTC/COP/10/7
“The one where the WHO denies quitting smoking is quitting smoking, and other daydreaming”

3 August
The WHO releases new report on the ‘tobacco epidemic’ and how to maintain it
“Cynical people (unlike those at Copwatch, of course) might assume that there is some cherry-picking going on for inclusion of evidence for the report, while Bloomberg’s anti-nicotine minions are given pay-to-play access to write it”

31 July
The road to FCTC #COP10
“Going from the agenda we can expect a fully packed discussion on substantive items. Readers will remember that COP9 was virtual and that although discussions were tortuous (refresh your memory with our COP live reporting), there was no discussion on ‘substantive items’. This in person COP10 in Panama promises to be a proper bun fight – and we just wonder whether the allotted week will be sufficient.”

29 June
Big trouble in little Panama
“The World Health Organization is often criticised for incompetence in a number of its policy focuses, not solely for its calamitous, head-in-the-sand position on lower-risk alternatives to smoking. But in the practice of handing awards to its buddies, it can only be described as a triumphant global expert”

6 June
Yet another murky WHO meeting
“No-one outside of the WHO FCTC bubble will be allowed to view this latest secret meeting, nor do we expect to see published minutes.”

1 June
Consumer groups challenging the WHO FCTC – Who will be next?
“WHO appointees to the FCTC Bureau and Secretariat have always thrived under the cloak of secrecy they cleverly weaved around preparations for COP conferences. They have been mostly unchallenged when ignoring evidence on the effectiveness of safer nicotine and peddling their anti-harm reduction agenda to member delegations. But it appears consumer groups all around the world are alive to their antics this year.”

9 May
April – victory month for harm reduction
For the first time in UN history the notion of harm reduction appeared in the politically negotiated UN resolution on drug policy. Until then harm reduction had only been mentioned in the context of HIV/AIDS. The resolution adopted at the 52nd session of the Human Rights Council mentions a harm reduction approach among other health responses and underlines that support for harm reduction is not qualified as being subject to national legislation.

3 May
Introducing the authors of the COP10 agenda – the FCTC Bureau
“Copwatch decided to investigate by looking at the make-up of the FCTC Bureau, the body which will be writing the agenda. It would be preferable if they published their November and March meeting minutes so we could read the plans first-hand but, as Copwatch reported previously, it seems their typewriter is still at the repairers.”

25 April 
The WHO meetings that never are or were
“Although we know that this GTRF meeting is taking place in India this week, that is all we will ever know. It seems that the WHO has only two rules on the matter. The first rule is that they do not talk about GTRF. The second rule is: they DO NOT talk about GTRF!”

20 April
Who is the new WHO French guy?
“the WHO’s new head of policy on tobacco and nicotine has shown he is incapable of understanding quantitative research, is willing to massage scientific data to hide inconvenient facts, refuses to listen to consumers, and is ideologically opposed to vaping despite its track record of reducing smoking rates in his country.”

11 April
Panamanian party poopers?
“The last Copwatch post reported on Dr. Reina Roa, who has accepted an award from Bloomberg Philanthropies and is now being investigated by Panamanian authorities for “administrative irregularities” over what is a clear conflict of interest in her role as an “independent” adviser to the Ministry of Health.”

3 April
Where’s Bloomby? Check the atlas
“The latest target of Bloomberg’s ongoing programme to influence government policies in low and middle income countries is Panama. Yes, the Panama where COP10 will be held later this year. That Panama.”

23 March
We had a dream….
“Yet again, we will hear whining that there are no safer alternatives to smoking, and that tobacco and nicotine products should be banned. Just not the cigarettes.”

1 March
Where are the FCTC Bureau meeting minutes?
“The second meeting of the FCTC Bureau took place at the end of November 2022, but here we are at the start of March and the minutes of their last meeting have still not been published. Has their typewriter broken?”

1 February
Key milestones for COP10
We provide a graphic of the key milestones leading up to COP10, and opportunities for engagement.

10 February
Is the FCTC’s website now a Bloomboard?
“Yet another day, yet another connection of Bloomberg with the Secretariat of the Framework Convention.”

#COP10 is here!

Here is COPWATCH’s guide for COP10 week. Check back as the week goes on, we are planning to publish regular COP Live updates. Those will be announced via our Twitter/X account: @FCTCcopwatch 

#COP10 is on from Monday 5 February to Saturday 10 February The official event takes place in the Panama Convention Center. There are also unofficial events taking place, notably the Good COP event. Here we give you information about the official and unofficial events.  

Anyone can get involved in #COP10 on social media – the official hashtag is #COP10FCTC

If you are not attending the official event you might still want to read the Information kit for delegates to the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Intended for delegates new to FCTC COP, it is clearly written and informative about some of the procedures.  

Also, Clive Bates has produced this: FCTC COP-10 – a survival guide for delegates 

And, GSTHR produced this overview of COP: The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) and the Conference of the Parties (COP): an explainer (updated April 2023)


Here are the ‘working hours’ for COP10

Taken from Guide for Participants, FCTC/COP/10/DIV/2/Rev.1

What sessions will be livestreamed? 
You probably know that FCTC COP is secretive and closed. So, most of the action takes place away from the public gaze.  However, sessions at the beginning and end are expected to be livestreamed. This provisional agenda (FCTC/COP/10/1) uses asterisks ( * ) to mark which sessions the Bureau recommends should be livestreamed:

Asterisks in the provisional agenda mark which sessions the Bureau proposes should be livestreamed, in the opening session.

The graphic below has appeared on the COP10 homepage. We assume that clicking on it on the page will take you to the live streamed sessions:

The COP10 agenda 
One of the first tasks of COP will be to adopt the agenda. Here is the Provisional agenda annotated (FCTC/COP/10/1), which is listed on the Documentation – Main documents page

Good to read alongside the agenda…
Clive Bates’ ‘Commentary on the Annotated Agenda’
COPWATCH has critiqued several of the official COP10 documents, see our directory of COP10 articles for those.
GSTHR: The FCTC COP10 Agenda and supporting documents: implications for the future of tobacco harm reduction

COP side events
The official COP side events and who is organising them are listed here:

Official journal
Journals are published daily, here:
The Preliminary journal is already available:

GATC COP bulletins
The Global Alliance for Tobacco Control (formerly the Framework Convention Alliance) will be putting out daily bulletins. Although not an official record, the GATC is very much on the inside, so those bulletins will be worth reading. They are again planning to dish out daily Orchid and Ashtray (stigmatising, much?!) awards. Many commentators view those as intended to shame Parties to fall in line with what the Secretariat wants.   

Copwatch was very proud to get an award at COP9 – admittedly it wasn’t given to us by the FCA – maybe this time?

Unofficial events
TPA’s GOOD COP/BAD COP is on from Monday 5 – Friday 9 February

From the organisers:

“The Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) is organizing a rapid response and fact checking conference in Panama City, Panama as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) meets for their biennial Conference of the Parties (Bad COP) to discuss tobacco-related issues. TPA’s event “Conference of the People (Good COP)” will bring in experts and consumers, often ignored by WHO, to be heard during the discussion of tobacco and tobacco harm reduction.”

In contrast to FCTC COP10, all the Good COP sessions will be livestreamed and will feature experts in the field of tobacco harm reduction.  

The agenda is here – but it is subject to change, as the organisers will be responding to news coming out of COP.  


GOOD COP BAD COP will be livestreaming on the TPA’s YouTube and posting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter/X

Also, Brent Stafford at RegWatch will be doing a live broadcast at the end of each day (4pmET) on his channel and streamed on Twitter/X

You can sign up to TPA’s daily digest email here:

Another unofficial event:
Segundo Foro Latinoamericano Nicotina y Reducción de Riesgo (Second Latin American Nicotine and Risk Reduction Forum) Tuesday 6 February.

Organised by Rauder this takes place at Hotel Las Américas Golden Tower Panama. You can sign up via Eventbrite here

That’s all for now! Follow us and #COP10FCTC on Twitter/X to join in the #COP10 conversation and follow the developments throughout the week. Our COP Live updates will appear here.

#COP10 – full steam ahead

The propaganda assault on safer nicotine products and those who advocate for them is at fever pitch.  Bloomberg has poured a lot of money – ‘Bloombucks’ – into attacking tobacco harm reduction and journalists for hire are working overtime to smear anyone who speaks up for it. This media manipulation will be familiar to advocates but still raises eyebrows – it’s arrant hypocrisy when the Bloomberg funded media attacks advocates for perceived conflicts of interest.    

Read on for more COP10 news since our last update.


WHO is going further than ever in recommending that countries ban safer alternatives to smoking. A press release published on 14 December recommends that: 

‘Any government pursuing a smoking cessation strategy using e-cigarettes should control the conditions under which the products are accessed to ensure appropriate clinical conditions and regulate the products as medicines’

Vapes are effective because they are consumer products; that is fundamental to their success in helping people to quit smoking. We don’t know of any medicinally licensed vaping products. So WHO is now calling for countries who have legalised vapes to ban them.  

Check out too what Rüdiger Krech, WHO’s Director for Health Promotion said on 16 January in a press briefing – watch here from 22.50 in:

Here’s a clip:

And, TikTok has this video with Krech saying it’s good news that 1.25 billion people still smoke. The quiet bit said out loud? 

Happily, some of WHO’s disinformation is being challenged, at least one of their tweets has earned a Community Note. 

More trouble in Panama over the $5million hosting of COP10 🍿

Not only is there dissatisfaction over the Panama government spending $5million on the contract, a complaint has been filed over how the contract was awarded.  It has been revealed that the contract was not put out to tender and there is now an official complaint.   Read more on these links:

Cuestionan contrato directo de $5 millones para eventos sobre tabaco (They question a $5 million direct contract for tobacco events – Google translate)

Panamá no sale de un escándalo para caer en otro (Panama does not emerge from one scandal to fall into another – Google translate)

We have reported several times on the controversies surrounding Panama’s hosting of COP10, see our COP10 articles list if you are interested in reading more. 

And, Panama’s Ministry of Health (MINSA) recently put out a press release stating that ‘delegates from 183 countries are expected, with about 1,900 people (1,200 for the COP and 700 for the MOP)’.  

Official documents

Participants list

Back to Bloomberg – do check out the participants list, published after the de minimis session. There’ll be a big Copwatch thumbs up👍🏽for anyone who can identify how many of the Observers are funded by Bloomberg – we can see it’s a lot but we don’t have time to research the full list. In contrast, not one organisation which speaks on behalf of people who use nicotine has been granted observer status. And, we are hearing that applications from the general public to attend the COP open sessions are being rejected, including from tobacco growers in Brazil:

‘In October, the Minister of Agriculture, Carlow Fávaro (PSD), had confirmed to parliamentarians that the Brazilian government would grant access to the event to representatives of the population. However, those who registered on the official website of the World Health Organization had their application rejected without official justification’. (Google translate)

See: Deputies are denied registrations for COP10: “We need a voice in decisions”

What makes it even worse is that WHO is evidently familiar with the concept that those most affected should be involved in decisions which affect them. In 2021 they produced a manual entitled ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’  #NoExcuse 

Information kit for delegates
The Secretariat has produced this information kit for delegates:

Delegates should also read our Alternative reading list for #COP10 delegates

And, we’d like to take this opportunity to remind you that Copwatch has delved into lots of the COP10 official documents over the past few months, check out our article list here:
COPWATCH #COP10 articles

UK Parliament debate

Andrew Lewer MP moved the motion on COP10 to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in a backbench debate on 18 January. The video is here and the Hansard (transcript) is here.

All MPs speaking called for a minister to attend as part of the UK COP delegation. Many MPs were concerned that the UK COP delegation might agree with policies which contradict domestic ones.

“In Panama, I want to hear the Minister using their power and the UK’s authority to stand up for solutions that work. I want the Government to stand by these arguments. NHS policy papers, the Khan review and ASH show that allowing people to make smaller changes leads to longer-term change. If we use our position as one of the FCTC’s largest financial contributors, our voice should be heard. I urge the Government to lead, and the Minister for Primary Care and Public Health to join COP10 as part of our delegation.”
Virendra Sharma MP

For more see: Sticking to its Guns, Tobacco Reporter

Media is warned off COPWATCH

It was brought to our attention that COPWATCH was mentioned in the ‘Media workshop in lead up to global tobacco treaty intergovernmental negotiations (COP10/MOP3)’, held on 23 January. Apparently it was said that although there is no proof that the tobacco industry funds us, it is strange that we go along with what the tobacco industry is doing.  

We would like to put the record straight. No one funds COPWATCH. We are part of the proud global movement of grass roots consumers advocating for people who smoke to have access to products which can improve their lives. That movement has had many successes worldwide in resisting over regulation which would take life saving products away from the people who need them. We have been advocating for safer nicotine products for a long time, long before any of the tobacco industry. In fact, some of the tobacco industry is just saying what we said first. And, by no means is all of the industry pro tobacco harm reduction – just look at China Tobacco. 

That’s all for now. We’ll leave you with some reading – an excellent letter from the Association of Vapers India, calling upon their delegation to use COP to learn from the positive experiences of nations which are open to tobacco harm reduction:

#COP10 Catch Up

Quite a bit happened with COP10 since we last posted.  Here we bring you up to speed:  

Copwatch had been reporting since April that there was a problem with the contract to put on COP10,  this is from our article of 7 November:

“The upshot is that, with less than 2 weeks to go, the WHO has booked a convention centre in which to hold COP10 but has no-one to organise it. Delegates may be arriving in Panama City all dressed up but with nowhere to go.” Even bigger big trouble in little Panama

So, it came as no surprise to us when on 9 November it was announced that COP10 would be postponed. The Secretariat’s press release stated that the postponement was at the request of Panama and “due to the current security situation in Panama”. However, Copwatchers will find it hard to believe that the problems with the COP10 contract, and the whiff of corruption around it, had nothing to do with the decision.   See Vaping Today’s recent article, here, for an in depth analysis of the various issues.  

A ‘de minimis’ virtual session was held on 23 November.  The main agenda item addressed the need to raise money to fund the resumed in person COP10  [you’ll remember that the Panama government had refused the consortium planning COP an extra $2 million, not long before the postponement was announced].   This Decision document shows how the $1.1m needed to finance the rescheduling will be raised:

The Journal for the de minimis session is thin, but it does give these ‘official’ hashtags for COP10: #COP10FCTC and #COP10  (both hashtags are currently dominated by consumer advocates for tobacco harm reduction). 

A few days later – the money now being in place – the new dates for the in person COP10 in Panama were announcedMonday, 5 February to Saturday, 10 February 2024 

Delegates list
A huge bonus for those who appreciate transparency (not you, FCTC Secretariat) is that the delegates list for the de minimis session had to be published:

Usually we have to wait until after COP to see who the delegates are – despite them all being funded out of the public purse! Publishing the list in advance means that delegates can be contacted by the actual public.  It offers a rare opportunity for those who are most affected by the decisions taken at FCTC COP to have a say.  So, get writing, people! 

Even bigger big trouble in little Panama

Chaos reigns in Panama City in the lead up to COP10.

In August, Copwatch reported on disquiet in Panama about the award of $4,881,732.20 to a consortium tasked with organising the COP10 conference. Heavy criticism was directed at the government for spending such a large sum of money on bureaucrats when the country’s health service was struggling to cope.

“My God, with half of that money” complains Medical Director, Fernando Castaneda to La Prensa Panamá, “we can buy incubators for newborns, thousands of medicines, supplies, and equipment to replace all the damaged ones we have.”

Matters have developed further with the revelation last week, again by Panamanian news outlet, La Prensa, that the agreement has now been terminated.

“The Cabinet Council approved annulling the $5 million contract signed between the Ministry of Health (Minsa) and the Cop 10 Consortium to organize a biannual anti-smoking conference of the World Health Organization (WHO).”

Reports suggest that the consortium encountered extra costs and requested a further $2 million from the government. This was, understandably due to the political pressure the award had created, promptly rejected. At which point the consortium, equally promptly, withdrew from the contract. 

The upshot is that, with less than 2 weeks to go, the WHO has booked a convention centre in which to hold COP10 but has no-one to organise it. Delegates may be arriving in Panama City all dressed up but with nowhere to go. 

In other news, many COP delegates may view a possible rescheduling of COP10 with relief. The Panamanian public has been outraged at the recent award of a rumoured $400 billion contract with a Canadian mining company to exploit three square miles of Panamanian rainforest to extract copper. Protesters have been on the streets throughout the country chanting and waving banners with slogans such as “Panama is not for sale”. In Panama City itself, crowds of 30,000 protesters have clashed with the Police and Army using tear gas and what the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice page calls “riot control munition”.

There are fuel, gas, and food shortages and protesters have vowed to continue civil disobedience until the mining contract is cancelled, which does not look likely. Searching Twitter hashtags #Panama and #PanamaProtesta brings up disturbing images of angry chaos in Panama City. 

In June, Copwatch referred to previous protests which lasted for weeks on end. 

“Panama was rocked last year by a series of nationwide protests and blockades. They were prompted by cost-of-living concerns, exacerbated by deep-seated mistrust of government officials accused of feasting on taxpayer funds, and complaints about poverty, inequality and corruption in the country.”

BBC World reports that “Such a level of conflict – as massive as it is prolonged – has not been seen since the time of Manuel Antonio Noriega’s dictatorship” which suggests today’s protesters will be in it for the long run.

With around 1,200 delegates due to arrive in Panama imminently, the WHO must be concerned about how they can guarantee attendee safety, especially as protesters have expressed disappointment that the world’s media is not taking much notice of them. Heaven forbid they find out that high ranking government officials from 190 countries are due to convene at the convention centre in Panama City very soon. 

Copwatch can only imagine these two issues combined must be causing headaches amongst FCTC administrators. Perhaps they can reach out to one of their Pharmaceutical partners for a steady supply of Paracetomol. 

The WHO has had a run of extraordinarily bad luck with COP meetings in recent years. Prior to COP6, there was an Ebola outbreak in Africa and the Russians shot down a passenger plane just before Director General Margaret Chan travelled to Moscow to talk about tobacco with Putin. New Delhi saw the worst smog in living memory which closed 20,000 schools in the week the WHO turned up in the city to talk about the dangers of vaping at COP7. The pandemic wrecked plans for COP9 which had to be delayed by a year and held virtually. Now this for COP10.

Copwatch would like to say we have sympathy for such bad luck but, unlike the WHO, we don’t want to mislead you.

FCTC: Does it work? #COP10

In this article we look at a report posted on the Documentation – Supplementary information page on the FCTC COP10 website.  Authored by the Secretariat, the report is titled: ‘Contribution and impact of implementing the WHO FCTC on achieving the noncommunicable disease global target on the reduction of tobacco use’. This report complements the ‘main document’ titled FCTC/COP/10/4: Global progress in implementation of the FCTC, which we wrote about here

This supplementary document does a far better job than the ‘main document’(10/4) in describing progress made against the ultimate objective, which is to reduce death and disease from smoking.  In contrast, FCTC/COP/10/4 mentions prevalence only twice and smoking is mentioned only once: in the context of the implementation of smoke-free laws.  However, although the report we are discussing today does better at describing the problem, it clearly shows the FCTC is not working.

This supplementary document tells us that global tobacco prevalence is estimated to have fallen from 29% in 2005 to 20% in 2022. What the report doesn’t tell us though, is how much smoking has fallen. Smoking is the key driver of death and disease, not tobacco use per se (just look at Sweden). The major problem here is that the metric is wrong – we need to know what is happening with smoking.

Second, whatever the FCTC is doing, it is not working. Only 30% of the countries which have ratified the FCTC are on track to achieve a decrease in tobacco prevalence by 30% by 2025.

This quote from the supplementary report sums up the situation:

“Trends evident from surveys completed by Parties, with projections to 2025, show that most Parties need to accelerate tobacco control activities in order to achieve the voluntary target of the Global Action Plan 2013–2030 to reduce tobacco use by 30% between 2010 and 2025. While the prevalence of current tobacco use among people 15 or older, averaged across all Parties, is estimated to have declined from 29% in 2005 to 20% in 2022, progress is uneven. Of note, 102 Parties are not on track to achieve the reduction target unless additional policies and stronger policies are urgently put in place and effectively enforced.”

This WHO response will be familiar to Copwatch readers: that we need to do more of the same (things that don’t work) and ban products that could actually help us reduce smoking. We respectfully disagree: Sweden, Norway, Japan, UK and New Zealand are achieving far more rapid progress in reducing smoking because consumers can access life-saving alternatives. Taking away these alternatives not only defies logic and common sense, but will also literally kill people.

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.

Human rights alert at #COP10

The FCTC Secretariat is working behind the scenes to impose a narrow view on human rights and tobacco within the UN system and amongst countries (the Parties to the Convention).

At a recent progress meeting of the UN Non-Communicable Disease Task Force Lynn Gentile from the UN Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights emphasised that a ‘Human rights framework is indispensable to how we respond to health challenges such as NCDs and mental health’.

Tobacco was a key theme of the meeting. It was reported that Task Force members had agreed plans for ‘ensuring [a] successful conference and meeting of Parties on the Tobacco Control Framework Convention in Panama..’. This is an example of how UN officials work behind the scenes to influence the outcomes of Convention meetings.

It is also reported that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the FCTC Convention Secretariat are finalising a set of policy briefs that will provide governments with information about how tobacco control impacts different sectors. These documents will likely be made available at the last minute and are not on the published COP agenda.

Under its current leader Adriana Blanco Marquizo, the Convention Secretariat has anchored  its work across the whole UN system including on human rights. It presents a narrow view of tobacco control to other UN agencies which may have little specialist knowledge about tobacco.

The Secretariat report to COP (FCTC/COP/10/15)  on how human rights intersect with the work of the FCTC is one-sided and thin. It includes statements about protecting individuals from tobacco smoke, mention of the right to life, and mention of the highest attainable state of health and the rights of children and tobacco growers. The Secretariat fails to mention another stream of human rights work within the UN system, in which access to harm reduction resources is a key part of the right to health.  International human rights law supports harm reduction, a case initially made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health and now acknowledged by many UN agencies who work on drugs and on HIV harm reduction. Access to safer nicotine products can be seen as part of the right to health in that people should be able to choose safer alternatives to smoking.

As Copwatch has been at pains to point out, tobacco harm reduction (THR) is, so far, absent from COP10. None of the documents nor reports intended to influence the Parties mention that safer nicotine products offer any opportunities for individual and public health. Safer nicotine products are presented as a threat to tobacco control, rather than as having potential to divert people from smoking and other risky tobacco use. 

The COP documents class all tobacco products together, and do not distinguish between high risk tobacco products and safer alternatives. We predict that the narrow human rights perspective proposed by the Secretariat will present safer nicotine products as much of a threat to the right to health as cigarettes. THR consumer advocacy groups are highlighting the right to access safer nicotine products. In an open letter addressed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – Volker Türk – 52 civil society organisations highlight the urgency of adopting strategies based on harm reduction and the right to health (see here for the English version). They ask that the UN system recognises harm reduction as obligatory under the right to health and that he encourages the WHO to recognise the legitimacy of harm reduction in relation to smoking, to encourage states to adopt harm reduction policies, and to encourage the participation of consumer groups at COP. It will be interesting to see the reply.

A vaper’s call to the delegations to #COP10

“I call on the Philippine delegation, and all delegations, to the next FCTC COP, to consider our plight”

Here we publish a powerful plea from a vaper in the Philippines to the delegates who will be meeting at COP10 in Panama next month. 

“In one month, the parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control will meet in Panama to discuss and set rules on how cigarettes and vaporized nicotine products or VNPs (this is how we refer to e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products here in the Philippines) should be regulated. The debate is as political and as emotional as ever. Netflix has this feature documentary on the biggest vape product in the world, the UK is in the news with their new approach to tobacco control, and the anti-smoking (now also anti-vaping) NGOs are front and center in calling for bans or equalizing the regulations for cigarettes and VNPs. The anti-VNP campaign employs alarmist propaganda, fake news, half-truths,and disinformation. Panama will set the tone for the next chapter of the VNP story. 

What is drowned in all this noise are the voices of the people who will be most impacted, smokers and vapers. Smokers because VNPs have proven to be a useful tool for quitting, and vapers who benefit from their availability at present. I am a former smoker. I was able to quit with the help of a VNP. I am still a vaper today, and if the essential qualities that make VNPs work for smokers are taken away (like flavors and nicotine restrictions), I’m not sure if I can keep vaping, or if I’ll find myself going back to cigarettes. This may very well be the case for the millions of vapers globally who will be impacted by the decisions of a handful of bureaucrats in Panama who are not even brave enough to open their discussions to the public eye. 

The problem with this debate is that the antis are pushing the narrative that keeping minors away from VNPs and helping adult smokers quit using VNPs are mutually exclusive approaches. They are not. It is possible to protect minors from getting hooked on nicotine products AND give adult smokers the chance to try these, and for adult vapers, to continue making this their nicotine product of choice. It’s all about the regulation. Banning, or equalizing the regulations, will only favor cigarettes and the black market. It still amazes me how the WHO and the NGOs turn a blind eye on these realities, and how they always argue like things happen in a vacuum. “Vapor products are dangerous; they have this chemical or that chemical” they say. That’s true, but if you compare these with cigarettes, they are much less harmful. This comparative exercise should be the test, and not something buried in the sensationalist headlines that banner the worst possible things you can imagine from this product category (think popcorn lung, EVALI, and other kinds of misinformation) which will not even happen if proper regulations are in place. 

The old traditional tobacco control measures should be supplemented by these new products. What is worth noting is that the countries with the best VNP regulations are all developed ones. We are yet to see these products take-off in a low- or middle-income country. This is where the COP comes in. Instead of asking how we can keep these products from the poorest of the poor smokers, we should find ways to bring these products to them, as the impact of smoking is felt the hardest in the global south. We have a golden opportunity to study the available evidence, look at the regulations that work (and which are killing cigarettes in the countries where they are given the chance to do so) and share this globally as a best practice. 

Stopping smoking CAN include VNPs. I call on the Philippine delegation, and all delegations, to the next FCTC COP, to consider our plight. We are your constituents too, and our welfare, our lives, are more important than the egos, the personalities, and the ideologies that drive the antis in this debate.”