The WHO publishes anonymously-written papers designed to gaslight Parties at COP10

The one where COP delegates are invited to take opinions about vapes on trust

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. 

There is much that could be challenged in them, but the problem would be who to approach considering they are written anonymously. Are senior government officials attending the meeting in Panama from around the world expected to just take the misinformation on trust? 

Let’s discuss the first which concerns single use vapes (which the document charmlessly calls D-ENDS) and contains a number of unreferenced assumptions. 

Without any link to research, it claims that “there is a risk that [the] metal coil will release heavy metals in the heating process.” There may well be a risk, but there also may not. Students are discouraged from referring to Wikipedia for their studies, but at least entries there are rejected if an assumption is not backed up by a credible source. This WHO document does not concern itself with such probity despite being designed for the much more important role of educating government representatives about a vital area of public health. 

It asserts that “the addition of flavourings increases the toxicity of ENDS aerosol in a significant manner”, again without any evidence by way of back up. A Wikipedia reviewer would add [citation needed] but the WHO doesn’t seem to think it necessary. 

The document complains that “we also observe a strong industry lobbying activity to regulate newer products (heated tobacco products, or HTPs, snus and nicotine pouches, and ENDS in all its forms) as little as possible”, which those who recognise the significant benefits of harm reduction would find sensible. Parties are told to ignore this though because – and this may make your jaw drop – the WHO accuses industry of “insisting on rhetoric pretending that they are a “safer” alternative to tobacco products.”

Pretending? There is absolutely no doubt that those products are less harmful than combustible tobacco, with acres of scientific research to support the difference in risk. There is no pretence about it. The only fantasists here are the authors if they believe lower risk nicotine delivery is not safer. If so, how can they be qualified to write papers for the WHO? 

It is also worth noting that consumers and independent scientists are also in favour of light touch regulation, not just industry. Put this down as another flimsy attempt to cast harm reduction as an industry plot rather than a significant public health opportunity. 

It further criticises EU regulations on the strength of nicotine liquids, claiming that 20mg/ml “is already considered a strong concentration” but fails to say by whom. Many would disagree. No reference is given. 

Then the anonymous author or (authors) delve further into cloud cuckoo land. They “stress” that surveys show “D-ENDS prevalence was significantly on the rise and for most other products (HTPs, snus, nicotine pouches) prevalence had increased, and that no significant decrease was observed in cigarette prevalence.” 

Japanese sales of tobacco have declined by around 50% since heated tobacco products hit the market and the UK government recently agreed that vapes “are up to twice as effective as the available licensed nicotine replacement.” One must also wonder how the anonymous authors have missed the fact that Sweden is about to reach the EU smokefree 2040 target of less than 5% smoking prevalence 17 years early thanks to snus use. The WHO document also dreams that “young people could hyperventilate with a D-ENDS”[citation needed], and that “it is usually considered that an Elf bar 800 gives a nicotine equivalent of 60 cigarettes.” This is a regularly-cited snippet of disinformation amongst those opposed to vaping which has been succinctly dismissed as a myth by Action on Smoking and Health in the UK.

After cataloguing red herrings, myths, unsubstantiated opinion and unscientific rumour, our anonymous authors sum up by recommending that “many policies effective against tobacco should be implemented against disposable ENDS as well (plain packages, flavour bans, taxation, full advertisement bans, selling only under a licence system, etc.)”

Copwatch would like to ask a few questions. Who wrote this? What are their qualifications? Why are they offering nothing more than opinions without adequately backing them up with links? Why should Parties believe assertions which are supported by less evidence than would be considered necessary for a half-decent blog? 

The WHO and FCTC Bureau should not be in the business of publishing opinion pieces, which is the only way this document can be described. 

Most importantly, it would be dereliction of duty for Parties to COP10 to take this unevidenced, unprofessional, and superficial guidance seriously when contemplating recommendations in Panama for global regulations.