The World Health Organization warns e-cigarettes and other novel nicotine and tobacco products threaten progress in the fight against tobacco use across the globe.
Many countries are making progress in adopting tobacco control measures to get their populations to quit smoking or to dissuade them from starting to smoke.
But a new World Health Organization report finds governments are no match for the tobacco industry. For the first time, the WHO is presenting new data on electronic delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products.
The head of WHO’s Tobacco Control Program, Vinayak Prasad, tells VOA the tobacco industry is marketing these products to children and adolescents. He says e-cigarettes, which come in more than 15,000 different flavors, are being promoted to appeal to young people and get them hooked.
"But only three countries have banned the use of flavors and the rest do not. Also…42 percent of the countries only restrict sale to minors, so children are able to buy cigarettes…Children who start using e-cigarettes are twice likely to become regular tobacco users. That is dangerous. It risks the renormalization of tobacco in society” Prasad said.
WHO reports the proportion of people using tobacco has declined in most countries. However, the total number of people smoking remains stubbornly high because of population growth. The U.N. health agency estimates the number of current smokers at one billion. It adds eight million people die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses every year.
Prasad says more than 80 percent of tobacco users live in developing countries. He says the tobacco industry is fighting to prevent countries from adopting regulations against the use of so-called smokeless products.
"The biggest challenge of today is the tobacco industry coming out with products at a fairly high frequency, claiming it to be cleaner, safer, less harmful, and putting the governments under a lot of pressure,” Prasad said.
There is limited evidence that electronic devices are effective in weaning people off tobacco. WHO recommends the use of conventional quitting regimens. It also advises governments to implement regulations to stop non-smokers from starting.
It says conventional tobacco control measures can be effective in protecting young people from the harmful use of e-cigarettes. These include raising taxes, pictorial health warnings, and bans on advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.