Friday, September 05 08:48:06
A World Health Organisation-commissioned review of e-cigarettes contains errors, misinterpretations and misrepresentations, meaning policymakers may miss their potential health benefits, a group of tobacco addiction experts said.
In a critique of the WHO's background paper on e-cigarettes, which acted as a blueprint for a WHO report last month calling for more regulation of the devices, the experts said its evaluation of the evidence was inaccurate.
"I was shocked and surprised when I read it," Ann McNeill, a researchers at the national addiction centre at King's College London, told reporters at a briefing. "I felt it was an inaccurate portrayal of the evidence on e-cigarettes."
The uptake of e-cigarettes, which use battery-powered cartridges to produce a nicotine-laced vapour, has rocketed in the past two years, but there is fierce debate about their potential risks and benefits.
Because they are new, there is a lack of long-term scientific evidence on their safety. Some experts fear they could lead to nicotine addiction and be a gateway to tobacco smoking, while others say they have enormous potential to help millions of smokers around the world kick their deadly habit.
The WHO's report last month called for stiff regulation of e-cigarettes as well as bans on indoor use, advertising and sales to minors.
McNeill said that while e-cigarettes are relatively new and "we certainly don't yet have all the answers as to their long-term health impact", it is clear they are far safer than cigarettes, which kill more than six million people a year.
Peter Hajek of the tobacco dependence research unit at Queen Mary University of London, who co-authored the critique, said it was vital that e-cigarettes should be assessed in relation to the known harms of tobacco cigarettes.
"There are currently two products competing for smokers' custom," he said. "One - the conventional cigarette - endangers users and bystanders and recruits new customers from among non-smoking children who try it.
"The other - the e-cigarette - is orders of magnitude safer, poses no risk to bystanders, and generates negligible rates of regular use among non-smoking children who try it."
Yet the WHO's background paper, and its report last month, recommend making it harder to bring e-cigarettes to market, and have the potential to put smokers off them, the experts said, putting policymakers and the public in danger of foregoing the public health benefits e-cigarettes could have.
"The use of e-cigarettes could save millions of lives during this century, and have the most important public health impact in the history of tobacco use," said Jacques le Houezec, a co-author and consultant in public health and tobacco dependence in France and lecturer at Britain's Nottingham University. (Reuters)
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