As the member countries of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) prepare to gather virtually in November for the treaty organization’s biennial meeting, vaping advocates are fearful the group could recommend restrictive vaping regulations.
The FCTC is a United Nations treaty, in effect since 2005, created under authority of the World Health Organization (WHO). Because the 180 FCTC member countries are parties to the treaty, their large meeting held every other year is called the Conference of the Parties. The November event is the ninth conference, or COP9.
In August, the FCTC announced that it would present background information (including the WHO’s Bloomberg Philanthropies-funded report on vaping and other novel nicotine products) at this year’s online meeting, but would postpone comprehensive debate on vaping and nicotine products until the COP10 meeting in 2023.
But because the COP gatherings are invariably secretive, with public and press excluded, there is the possibility that a member country could propose having the debate on vaping immediately. Then, unless another country were to object, the discussion would proceed with only the WHO’s cherry-picked evidence as a basis for decisions.
The UK’s New Nicotine Alliance (NNA)—one of the oldest nicotine consumer rights groups in the world—has taken the unusual step of issuing a call to action for British vapers and other nicotine product users. NNA is urging vapers to contact to their Members of Parliament, asking for two things:
- For MPs to write the new health secretary Maggie Throup and “insist that the substantive discussion of reduced risk nicotine products is not discussed at the WHO’s virtual COP9 meeting in November, but instead deferred to COP10,” and
- To ask that Throup instruct the UK COP9 delegation “to propose the setting up of a Tobacco Harm Reduction Working Group for COP10”
The NNA call to action offers helpful talking points and suggestions for vapers writing their MPs. The fact that NNA is concerned enough to ask for immediate action should serve as a wake-up call to UK vapers, some of whom are complacent about the UK government’s position on vaping.
Decisions made at COP9 “cannot just be waved away by politicians,” says NNA. “Any COP decision means that all governments participating have given consent to that decision.” The best way to prevent harsh restrictions on low-risk nicotine products is to demand the UK COP9 delegation oppose them before they’re proposed.
Even though harm reduction is specifically named as a pillar of tobacco control in its founding treaty, the FCTC has steadfastly opposed tobacco harm reduction in practice. The organization’s Secretariat—the leadership group that steers the COP agenda—is virulently opposed to vaping and other consumer nicotine product use. And while the United States is not an FCTC signatory, American anti-vaping ideologues, many affiliated with or funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, have great influence with the FCTC Secretariat.
Earlier this year, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vaping (APPG)—the UK Parliament’s study group on vaping—urged the UK COP9 delegation to challenge the WHO/FCTC position on vaping. The APPG report recommended the UK “send a balanced delegation of officials and experts that includes proponents of evidence-based policy and harm reduction to COP9.”
The MPs in the APPG also recommended that the UK’s COP9 delegation “establish a Working Group to look at the science and evidence for new and emerging products.” NNA notes that creating such a working group “requires the UK to put the proposal on the table and ask other government Parties to support it on the basis of the solid science on which the UK bases its decisions.”
The working group proposal is important, says NNA, because without it, COP10 decisions on recommended vaping laws and regulations will be based solely on the slanted evidence in the WHO’s very one-sided evidentiary reports. It would be difficult for even the UK government to ignore international consensus against vaping and THR.
“We are not safe in the UK from harmful regulation towards vaping and other reduced risk nicotine products,” writes NNA, “it can spread across borders very quickly. We must not assume that the current UK political acceptance of vaping is fixed in stone and will never change. Things can move swiftly in the wrong direction in politics, especially if politicians feel they are an outlier to a global consensus.
“It is also not just about protecting vapers in the UK,” the call to action adds. “Britain has a moral obligation to stand up for its harm reduction policies that have been so successful at reducing smoking at home. We should be encouraging other nations to follow our lead. Rather than taxing, banning flavours or outright e-cigarette bans, the world should be following the British example, not trying to hinder it, in order to reduce smoking related deaths.”