Thursday, 1 April 2021

The APPG on Vaping's report about the World Health Organisation

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Vaping has published its report on the WHO's secretive tobacco conferences, the latest of which is due to be held in the Netherlands in November. Known as COP meetings (conference of the parties), they have become a hotbed of anti-vaping agitation in recent years. The WHO encourages member states to impose the strongest regulation on e-cigarettes, preferably including prohibition. They made the wrong call early on and has been doubling down ever since...

Two leaked papers from WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office (EMRO) suggest that the WHO is exploring whether to advocate that reduced risk products are treated in the same manner as cigarettes or to ban them outright.

This is not the approach of the British government and that is a problem because British taxpayers are largely paying for these events. Indeed, they are paying a great deal to the WHO in general. As the report notes, the UK is the WHO's biggest state donor and recently agreed to increase its funding by 30 per cent.
The COP meetings fly under the media radar because they are held in secret and involve lot of private horse-trading and log-rolling on issues that can often seem boring, but they deserve more attention. The APPG report is a useful piece of work which says everything that needs to be said, much of which is stated starkly.

The WHO continues to undermine a policy which has been proven to help people stop smoking. 
That is the long and short of it.
The UK is a major contributor to the WHO (77% of its budget in 201826), therefore the world-leading policies we employ in this country towards reduced risk products – and the personnel behind them - should be backed up by our COP delegation in The Hague in November and that the UK has every right to do so. It would be entirely in keeping with previously stated aspirations from the WHO towards harm reduction; fits with the articles of the FCTC; is consistent with the scientific evidence; endorses the UK’s leadership in this policy area and would advance public health on a global scale. 

That requires us to send the right people to the meetings. How the UK chooses its delegates remains shrouded in secrecy...
During oral evidence, APPG members were told by witnesses that the process for choosing the UK’s FCTC COP delegates was not transparent. The delegations are published, and names of those attending is disclosed, but the process should be more open and transparent to ensure confidence, particularly the process by which delegates are selected.  

So, who should we send?

The UK should send a balanced delegation of officials and experts that includes proponents of evidence-based policy and harm reduction to COP9. The delegation should include experts who have first-hand experience of seeing the impact and benefit of reduced risk products as they are best placed to advocate for risk proportionate regulation. The UK should specifically push for a delegation which involves consumers and those with first-hand experience of vaping and reduced risk nicotine delivery systems. The UK should consider withdrawing funding from the FCTC if the WHO continues to discourage this form of smoking cessation. 

What we need is someone who is not afraid to be unpopular. Those who support harm reduction are outnumbered at the COP meetings and it is easy for timid individuals to feel overwhelmed or to just want to fit in. We need advocates, not seat-fillers. 
If tobacco harm reduction measures are not being advocated for at the COP, it is because they are not being brought to the table. It is therefore imperative that the UK continue to lead the world on this issue, with policies that promote the use of tobacco harm reduction products, including electronic cigarettes and heat-not-burn technologies.

And, crucially, let's use some soft power... 

The UK is one of the principal financial contributors to the World Health Organisation and the FCTC. If the upcoming FCTC COP9 advocates for a position on vaping and reduced risk products which is contrary to domestic UK policy, the UK should consider its options in relation to future funding.

Amen to that.

No comments: