18 Oct World Health Organization Backs Stricter Regulations on E-Cigarettes
For many months, the World Health Organization (WHO) has been evaluating the evidence about the health impacts of electronic cigarettes. In August 2014, the organization released a report calling for stricter regulations of these products, including a ban on indoor e-cigarette smoking.
E-cigarettes have been a topic of serious debate in recent months. Some public health advocates believe that e-cigarettes could be a valuable tool for people who wish to quit tobacco cigarettes. Others are concerned that the e-cigarette craze could lead to a spike in tobacco smoking after years of declines. Prior to the report, two separate open letters from physicians and public health advocates were addressed to the WHO, one asking it to support looser rules and the other seeking strict regulations.
Ultimately, the WHO recommended that governments ban e-cigarette smoking indoors until studies can prove that secondhand vapor is not harmful to bystanders. In addition, the organization called for regulated nicotine levels in e-cigarettes, which currently vary widely. The WHO also appeared concerned about the growing popularity of e-cigarettes among young people and recommended that sales to minors and candy-like and fruity flavors be banned.
Lack of Conclusive Research
E-cigarettes have been available for less than 10 years, and while the body of research is growing, the newness of the products means there are no concluded studies about the long-term health risks. It is also too early to know whether the popularity of the devices will lead more e-cigarette users to try tobacco cigarettes.
There are also concerns about the growing influence of the tobacco industry, which has become increasingly invested in e-cigarettes. Big Tobacco, which was widely vilified after years of anti-smoking campaigns that exposed the addictive and dangerous nature of their products, has been making a comeback via e-cigarettes. The tobacco industry lobby defeated a recent measure proposed by the European Commission that would have regulated e-cigarettes as medicines.
E-Cigarettes on the Rise Among Young People
Since their introduction, e-cigarettes have become increasingly popular among young people. Between 2011 and 2013, the number of young people in the United States who tried electronic cigarettes but never used traditional tobacco products tripled. With many questions remaining about the long-term health impacts of e-cigarettes, this information is concerning on its own. In addition, there are concerns that the rise of e-cigarettes may also be causing a rise in traditional smoking.
Between 1997 and 2011, smoking rates among young people dropped by 50 percent. However, the rate of decline slowed significantly in the last few years of this period. The statistics do not conclusively demonstrate that the slowing will continue or reverse, or that e-cigarettes are responsible for the slowing decline. However, the overlapping timeline for the slowing decline of traditional smoking and the sharp rise of e-cigarettes is enough to cause concern.
WHO Recommendations May Guide Future Laws
Although the recommendations from the WHO do not directly affect tobacco policy around the world, many legislative bodies are likely to consider these guidelines in their decisions about electronic cigarettes. In most places, restrictions on e-cigarettes are likely to increase as they have been entirely unregulated in many countries (including the United States) since they came on the market. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering a proposal to extend tobacco regulations to electronic cigarettes.
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