Experts express concern on WHO FCTC's Tobacco Control policies: Formiche Report

-Tobacco control efforts have not yielded any tangible results in the last 20 years

-Over eight million deaths in 2019 linked to smoking-related diseases, majority from LMICs

NEW DELHI, Dec. 14, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — In a recent report titled, ‘Framework Convention on Tobacco Control: Challenges and Prospects for WHO’, Formiche, one of Italy’s leading online and print magazines has raised concerns about World Health Organization’s (WHO) tobacco control policies and strategies in combating smoking related Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs). It provides a comprehensive overview of the smoking crisis, the limitations of current tobacco control policies, and the role of harm reduction and non-combustion products. Additionally, it emphasizes the need for innovative strategies and a re-evaluation of WHO’s approach to effectively combat the global smoking epidemic.

The report highlights how FCTC has not considered harm reduction efforts which led to a deviation from the original stance of WHO. Despite WHO FCTC’s efforts, the number of smokers have remained stable over the last 20 years, with the decrease in smoking rates being countered by the effects of population growth. It further suggests technology innovations that eliminate combustion, represent significant steps toward harm reduction. However, the FCTC, whilst acknowledging the potential of these innovations, has not adopted them, and discount the growing body of science evidencing their potential. Experts state that it has abandoned the core principle of harm reduction and ignored scientific evidence leading to misinformation amongst consumers.

Commenting on the report, Riccardo Polosa, Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Catania said, “With 80-90 percent of alternative tobacco products being less toxic in comparison to combustibles, there is clearly a solution to reducing tobacco risk, but the world seems to be completely blindfolded. it is essential for tobacco control policies to respect human rights and consider the integration of the principles of risk reduction by adopting alternatives.”

Expressing his concern, Professor Peter Hajek, Director, Tobacco Dependence Research Unit, Wolfson Institute of Public Health, Queen Mary University of London added, “At the moment the biggest issue concerns the misinformation. The public believes that tobacco alternatives are as dangerous as traditional cigarettes when they are much less dangerous, and people should be encouraged to use those less risky alternatives.”

Maria Alejandra Medina, coordinator of Corporación Acción Técnica Social, Colombia suggested that “There is no possibility of a nicotine-free world so there must be a change of approach to include embracing alternative products as the current tobacco policies are creating more harm and an effective solution needs to be adopted.”

Outlining an alternative approach, the report highlights the best practices in markets where alternatives have helped to accelerate the decline in smoking. The “Italian smokers: habits, opinions and trends” survey by the Eurispes Research Institute revealed that a majority of Italian smokers support state promoted information campaigns and research on non-combustion tobacco alternatives. A notable shift from traditional smoking to alternatives has been observed, with many smokers ceasing the use of cigarettes. This suggests a strong substitution effect of new alternatives for cigarettes.

Scientific evidence on alternatives has been evaluated positively by numerous regulatory bodies. As a solution to this policy issue, in the U.S., the FDA introduced the “Modified Risk Tobacco Products” category, recognizing products with reduced risks compared to traditional cigarettes.

Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), Dutch RIVM, France’s Pasteur Institute, Belgium’s Superior Health Council, and other European institutions have acknowledged the reduction of emissions and toxic substances in heated tobacco alternatives, albeit with caution about their overall health impact. Sweden’s approach towards smokeless alternatives has significantly reduced its smoking rate, achieving early targets set by the EU’s European Beating Cancer Plan.

80% of the world’s smokers live in low- and middle-income countries, where policies either ban alternative nicotine solutions entirely, or treat them like cigarettes. The effect of these policy approaches is that smokers who do not quit, are not supported in changing to options that could present less risk to them. “The hope is that the forthcoming Conference of the Parties can represent an opportunity for public health but also, in the spirit of the United Nations, a moment of confrontation to guide policy choices based on established scientific evidence”, the report states.

About Formiche

Formiche is one of Italy’s leading online and print magazines. It is at the forefront of political, economic, and health discourse. Its extensive research offers critical insights into geopolitics, global governance, healthcare reform, COVID-19 challenges, as well as sectoral experience such as leading thinking in areas like the pharmaceutical industry.

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