WHO plans to regulate e-cigarettes in same way as normal tobacco – Financial Times

Electronic cigarette users are set to be banished to the pavement alongside their tobacco-smoking cousins – and face similar hefty prices – if the World Health Organisation pushes ahead with plans to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way as normal tobacco.

Leaked documents seen by the Financial Times revealed that parts of the WHO are keen to classify the battery-powered devices as tobacco under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a WHO treaty that obliges governments to curtail smoking rates across the globe.


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Regulatory concerns around e-cigarettes range from unease about the level of nicotine within products to fears that their usage will “renormalise” tobacco and undermine current antismoking laws, such as advertising bans.

Dr Haik Nikogosian, who oversees the secretariat of the FCTC, said that e-cigarettes “could result in a new wave of the tobacco epidemic”, in a meeting that set the agenda for the November meeting in Moscow, according to minutes seen by the FT.

He added that “he felt more importance should be given to the threat posed by electronic cigarettes”, according to the minutes.

Attendees at the meeting, which included representatives from the WHO’s six global regions, said that e-cigarettes “would be considered as tobacco products as per the WHO FCTC” if they contained nicotine made from tobacco leaves, according to the minutes.

This definition would cover the vast majority of e-cigarette companies, the bulk of whom manufacture liquid nicotine – which is heated, then inhaled as vapour – from tobacco leaves.

The move would see e-cigarettes face the same advertising bans, public smoking limits and hefty excise duty that apply to normal cigarettes, potentially stymieing the products’ rapid growth.

Annual global sales of e-cigarettes have exploded from $20m in 2008 to $3bn last year, according to Canaccord Genuity. But their rapid growth has split health campaigners, who see the category as either a saviour for smokers or another front in the “tobacco epidemic”.

The rapid growth of the category has attracted the attention of multinational tobacco companies, all of whom have either launched or are developing e-cigarettes. Adverts for e-cigarettes from big tobacco companies such as British American Tobacco have appeared on screen in the UK for the first time in decades.

A clampdown on marketing via the FCTC would curtail the fast-growing industry, say analysts and executives. “It would be a major issue for the industry,” said Shane Macguill, a tobacco analyst at Euromonitor. “It would be damaging to the industry’s capacity to bring in new consumers.”

“The WHO as an international organisation has a tremendous amount of influence on perception of products across the world,” said Sanjiv Desai, general counsel at VMR Products, which makes V2 brand e-cigarettes. “We can’t discount the public perception and the weight that any decision that they make would have on electronic cigarettes.”

The FCTC has been ratified by all but a few countries in the world – with the US the only major exception – and obliges governments who have signed up to follow its recommendations.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration has said it plans to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products, meaning the devices could be subject to marketing and manufacturing restrictions. But the agency has not yet released its proposed rules, so it is not known if they will be as restrictive as those governing regular cigarettes.

Manufacturers such as VMR have said they welcome some regulations, such as restrictions on selling their products to people under 18. But industry advocates say e-cigarettes should not be restricted as aggressively as their traditional counterparts.

Phil Daman, president of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, a US industry group, said regulating the devices like tobacco would “stigmatise the product and would stifle innovation”.

He said: “When people see the benefit of having an alternative to tobacco consumption both from an economic perspective and a public health perspective, the value of having this alternative outweighs the fear.”

A spokesperson for the WHO said: “We are in the middle of a process right now. The WHO position is not yet finalised.”

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