E-cigarettes need regulation to protect the public, says WHO - but industry says risks have been greatly exaggerated

e-cig news /
The World Health Organisation calls for e-cigs to be regulated like tobacco, but critics argue that it's exaggerating and inventing risks

E-cigarettes and the liquids used inside them need to be regulated to protect the public, according to the World Health Organisation.

It acknowledges that e-cigarettes are «likely to be less toxic than conventional cigarettes» but that some e-cigs have been found to contain cancer-causing agents such as formaldehyde and «nobody knows how much less toxic they are».

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It points to the «great variety in the levels of toxicants and nicotine» produced by the hundreds of brands on the market — only a few of which have been studied.

Because of this, WHO wants e-cigarettes to be regulated in the same way that tobacco is.

In the meantime, it recommends people opt for alternative nicotine replacement tools such as patches, gum and inhalers.

The e-cigarette industry believes that WHO’s report is flawed.

«WHO's interpretation always assumes the worst case scenario to the point where it becomes moderately dishonest,» says Tom Pruen, Chief Scientific Officer of the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECITA).

«It exaggerates small risks and invents some risks that don’t seem to exist at all,» he adds, referring to a point in the report where WHO claims that second-hand exposure to e-cigarette vapour is a danger to non-smokers and pregnant women.

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«No one is suggesting non-smokers should be taking this up in droves. But 50% of smokers will die of smoking-related diseases. And this can help people give up.»

Pruen cites Robert West, the director of tobacco research at UCL, who says that vaping has probably helped 20,000 smokers in England stop.

«That could be 10,000 lives saved,» says Pruen.

The e-cigarette industry is not against regulation, he says, but doesn't think that the products should be regulated like tobacco products or medicines.

“We've always been pro-regulation, provided it’s well-informed and sensible,” he says.

ECITA is working to develop a standard for electronic cigarettes and tackle prohibited flavourings that have known health risks, such as butter flavouring diacetyl.

He says we should look at vaping as more similar to drinking coffee than smoking cigarettes.

Bottles of e-liquid should have child-proof lids, he says, and feature information about the risks and the amount of nicotine they contain.

E-cigarette devices should also be regulated to make sure the components are safe and they don't leach lead or other harmful metals into the vapour.

«These are things that directly affect the safety of consumers,» says Pruen.

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