Who is the new WHO French guy?

The World Health Organization’s Director General has appointed a new leadership team following his re-election last year. Naturally, we are interested in who has been handed the brief of overseeing the WHO’s future efforts towards smoking and nicotine. 

According to Health Policy Watch, the appointee is Dr Jérôme Salomon from France, who will act as Assistant Director-General for Universal Health Coverage, Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases. Copwatch believes it prudent that his credentials be checked for suitability in such an important role so we have investigated his track record.

Firstly, it appears that he finds mathematics challenging. In 2019, in his position as director of the General Directorate for Health (DGS) he appeared on French TV confidently stating that half of all French high school students were vaping and that one in six were doing so every day. Embarrassingly for Jérôme, this merely highlighted his confusion. 

As explained by Vapolitique, Jérôme’s statement misunderstood not one, but two, different surveys. 50.3% of students in just one city, Saint-Etienne not France, had said they experimented with vaping, but Jérôme failed to mention that the study also recorded only 3.6% were doing so daily. The Saint-Etienne survey was also not consistent with national data which showed lower vaping use nationally. 

His claim that one in six were vaping daily is arguably more embarrassing. Although the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT) study applied across France, the percentage of adolescents Jérôme cited were only recorded as vaping once or more, not daily. We are certain that this was a compound error brought about by a misunderstanding of data and he was not lying to the public, of course.  

Jérôme later generated controversy with his role in France’s COVID-19 efforts. In 2018, he had ordered destruction of face masks to save money which meant, when the virus struck, the country suffered a shortage of supplies. The administrative court of Paris found that, instead of admitting the mistake, Jérôme ordered a scientific report be changed to justify his decision. This led one Senator to remark that “faced with the shortage of masks, instead of speaking the truth, the government masked the shortage.”

Having survived that scandal, Jérôme set about to further his work extinguishing vaping products as a means of quitting smoking. Between 2016 and 2019, smoking rates plummeted in France due to the advent of vaping. The government reacted to this by including vaping in their annual stop smoking event, Mois Sans Tabac (Month Without Tobacco). Consumer organisations were recruited to give expert advice on how vaping can help smokers quit, understandable considering vaping had become the most popular cessation method. 

Jérôme took office as head of DGS in 2018 and proceeded to reverse this progress. He set up a committee to discuss tobacco control in France and personally opposed the participation of consumer groups in the process without giving any justification. In 2022, Mois Sans Tabac went ahead without any mention of vaping products, effectively eradicated over time by Jérôme. As consumer group La Vape Du Coeur remarked, “How is it that the most popular (and most effective) means of risk reduction was so hidden during this emblematic month of the fight against tobacco?” having been embraced from 2016 previously. 

To sum up, 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. 

Jérôme is a perfect fit for the WHO. But for the good of global public health, not so much.