Vaping and Science – who to believe?

Who do you believe when it comes to vaping and science? While the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) was releasing a report about Smoking and Health in 2021, full of support for vaping. The World Health Organisation (WHO) was announcing their campaign for World No Tobacco Day 2021, demonising vaping.

So why do these two scientific institutions offer such vastly different opinions of vaping? Some of this is about which parts of the world they are responsible for. 

In the case of the RCP, it’s very much a view from the UK. The WHO has a much larger remit, and has to consider policies for the whole of the world, and this includes global regions where tobacco smoking is increasing. However, this does not excuse the blatant misinformation included in the WHO’s recent, and we believe upcoming anti-vaping propaganda. 

RCP Smoking and health in 2021
The Royal College of Physicians has taken a balanced approach, and even the executive summary of their report is an in-depth read. 

They touch upon the damage that smoking is doing in the UK. In 2020 COVID-19 killed around 80,000 UK citizens, tobacco smoking killed 94,000. 

Going on to touch upon topics relating to smoking cessation in the UK and their recommendations, with many being extremely favourable for vaping. 

Health promotion: 

“Mass media campaigns support the use of electronic cigarettes as a quitting aid or substitute for smoking, and redress false perceptions about the safety of e-cigarettes compared with cigarettes”

“Health warning on e-cigarette packs include a statement that e-cigarette vapour is likely to be substantially less harmful than tobacco smoke” 

Public space smoking restrictions:

“Use of non-tobacco nicotine, including e-cigarettes, is important as a means to support abstinence from smoking in public places, and in some circumstances also indoors. Therefore, smoke-free policies should not automatically be extended to include non-tobacco nicotine use.”

Tobacco and nicotine product regulation:

“A review of the regulation of e-cigarettes in the UK is undertaken to assess the extent to which the regulations support switching from smoking…”

Treating tobacco addiction:

“E-cigarettes are included in standard protocols to treat tobacco dependency.”
The list goes on…

WHO World No Tobacco Day 2021
The WHO however, are not balanced. This year their campaign is entitled ‘Commit to Quit’. Their focus is on quitting tobacco for good, with a reminder that smokers are more likely to develop ‘severe disease with COVID-19’. There is limited and inconsistent evidence that this is the case, but we can at all accept that not smoking at all is better for your health in general.

They talk about the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which is a concerted effort in response to the global tobacco epidemic. 

This is all good, we are on the same page. We know as a business how damaging tobacco can be. Their thoughts on scaling up their existing support offerings, dedicated phone lines and support programs. But then we get to the thorn in WHO’s side, e-cigarettes. 

Their headline is: ‘E-cigarettes are not a proven cessation aid’. We will just let you read it for yourselves, with our own comments in [square brackets]:

“The tobacco industry has continuously attempted to subvert these life-saving public health measures. Over the last decade, the tobacco industry has promoted e-cigarettes as cessation aids under the guises of contributing to global tobacco control. Meanwhile, they have employed strategic marketing tactics to hook children on this same portfolio of products, making them available in over 15,000 attractive flavours.”

[This is clearly not the case, especially in the UK, where tobacco businesses’ e-cigarette product ranges tend to have little choice of flavour, and there have been no strategic marketing campaigns for any e-cigarette brands to “hook children”.]

“The scientific evidence on e-cigarettes as cessation aids is inconclusive and there is a lack of clarity as to whether these products have any role to play in smoking cessation. Switching from conventional tobacco products to e-cigarettes is not quitting.”

[The scientific evidence on e-cigarettes as cessation aids is very conclusive, with one extremely rigorous randomized control trial showing e-cigarettes to be about twice as effective as conventional NRT, and a Cochrane review of all available evidence estimating e-cigarettes are around 70% more effective than NRT. Oh, and by the way, WHO, if we have stopped smoking entirely, we have quit. You saying “it ain’t so” does not wash with us in the slightest!]

“We must be guided by science and evidence, not the marketing campaigns of the tobacco industry – the same industry that has engaged in decades of lies and deceit to sell products that have killed hundreds of millions of people”, said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “E-cigarettes generate toxic chemicals, which have been linked to harmful health effects such as cardiovascular disease & lung disorders.”

[This sweeping generalisation that vaping companies are big tobacco puppets is not only false, but also extremely damaging. The most worrying thing about this statement is that the WHO purport to be focussed on smoking cessation, yet in the same breath discount one of the most viable routes for smokers to take to break free from the chains of smoking with blatant untruths.]

So where is the balance?
The RCP report reads as a balanced look at tackling smoking in the UK. The WHO statement reads as a piece of anti-vaping propaganda.  The question we would love to see answered is why?