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WHO Calls for Stricter Regulations on E-Cigarettes

A man breathes vape from an e-cigarette at a vape shop in London, Aug. 17, 2018.

The World Health Organization is calling for stricter regulations on the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes as more information comes to light about the potentially harmful impact of these products.

Health officials are increasingly worried about the risks posed by e-cigarettes as reported cases of deaths and illnesses from these devices spread from the United States to Europe and beyond. They see the recent death of a young man in Belgium and reports of vaping-related illnesses in the Philippines and other countries in the world as a call to action.

The World Health Organization says it is disturbed that vaping devices continue to be marketed as products that are healthy and that can wean smokers off their nicotine addiction. WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier tells VOA these industry health claims are unproven.

“While these electronic nicotine delivery systems may be less toxic than conventional cigarettes, this does not make them harmless," he said. "They produce aerosols from the vapor that contain toxicants that can result in a range of significant pathological changes. These ends pose health risks for nonsmokers, to minors, to pregnant women — all of those who should not use such systems.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed at least 42 deaths in 24 states and the District of Columbia, and more than 2,100 illnesses related to vaping products.

Vaping is an extremely profitable growth industry. The number of people using vaping devices has increased from 7 million in 2011 to 41 million in 2018. Profits have nearly tripled, from $6.9 billion five years ago to more than $19 billion today. Getting the tobacco industry to refrain from the sale of electronic smoking devices will be extremely difficult.

The World Health Organization says long-term studies of health implications of electronic nicotine devices should begin. In the meantime, the U.N. health agency is issuing recommendations that in some ways mirror those enacted to control tobacco use.

WHO says there should be a ban on the promotion of electronic nicotine delivery systems to nonsmokers, pregnant women and youth; measures should be taken to minimize the potential risks to users and others from these devices, and the tobacco industry should be prohibited from using unproven health claims to market vaping products.