25 October 2021

Britain should not listen to the unaccountable, unscientific WHO on vaping

By Adam Afriyie MP

When we voted to leave the European Union, it was to escape the rule of Brussels. Freedom to decide our own laws for ourselves was as a key reason why so many people voted the way that they did in the 2016 referendum.

Exiting the EU has given us a new mandate to take a fresh look at all the rules and regulations imposed upon us by multinational bodies, consider why they were imposed in the first place and assess whether they should remain or be revoked or improved upon.

One such policy area that stands out is smoking. Harm reduction products such as vaping, e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn tobacco and nicotine pouches are back on the agenda.

These innovative products save thousands of lives every year and the UK is a world leader in harm reduction thanks to these market-led innovations.

To me, the argument has always been clear: smokers are primarily addicted to the nicotine, but it’s the smoking that kills them. So if they can’t quit, why not let them get their nicotine in far less harmful ways? Seems simple, right? Perhaps too simple. Either way, the EU did what it does so well and found a way to drastically over-complicate things.

Endless classifications and reclassifications. Hundreds of commissioned studies that ended up contradicting each other and, at times, themselves. Antiquated legislation and endless regulation ensuring that smokers weren’t being given the option to fully embrace a much less harmful alternative.

Laws that look like this ought to be the first to get the heave-ho. They should be replaced with new, simplified and sensible regulations that follow the science and evidence.

This would be an easy win for any government, especially since vaping is around 95% less harmful than smoking.

But here is where we hit the stumbling block – enter the World Health Organisation.

Just like the EU, the WHO is overly bureaucratic, unelected, and unaccountable. But even compared to Brussels’ dreadfully low communication standards, the WHO has had a terrible time recently. Praising nations for their Covid response without any evidence, dithering on masks, telling women of ‘childbearing age’ never to drink alcohol, the WHO has good cause for reassessing their approach.

Alas, it has not. Instead of reassessing, the WHO has felt emboldened for their next big crusade: vaping and alternatives to smoking.

Against the scientific consensus and common sense, the WHO has set its sights on these life-saving products. They falsely conflate vaping with the smoking of combustible products then pressurise countries to ban vaping and other electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery products.

In simple terms, the WHO now wants all member states to treat cigarettes and reduced risk products equally.

Their stance towards vaping and other reduced risk products is made even more peculiar considering their own EURO Regional Grouping brief on Electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems, released in 2020, states that there is conclusive evidence that ‘completely substituting electronic nicotine and non-nicotine delivery systems for combustible tobacco cigarettes reduces users’ exposure to numerous toxicants and carcinogens present in combustible tobacco cigarettes’.

There could be any number of explanations for why the WHO may be acting this way, but what matters is that they are, and they are advising our government to follow their lead, leave the science in the dirt, and adopt their proposals.

We simply cannot allow our politicians to do this. Doing so will be a signal to the rest of the world, to all the unelected and unaccountable international multilateral organisations, that despite the fact that we have left the EU, we remain entirely susceptible to external influence.

If we are to see the first signs of politicians beginning to walk in lockstep with the WHO on this issue, it will be apparent at next month’s COP9 – the WHO’s ninth Conference of the Parties on their Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

We left the EU to be free to make decisions for ourselves. Joining in with the smoke-filled back rooms of the anti-scientific WHO would be a betrayal of this freedom.

COP9 is virtual this year so perhaps we simply write it off as an unsuitable venue for meaningful discussions. Instead let’s focus our efforts on building a case for the world to see at COP10. Let’s take the lead and be confident by ensuring that we are represented on the working groups that lead to COP10.

This ensures our policies can be seen, understood and learnt from, across the world.

We, the UK, have saved tens of thousands of lives with our harm reduction policies, and this our chance to call out the naysayers and doom-mongers by saying a quintessentially British ‘thanks, but no thanks’ to those that would have us abandon our sovereignty as quickly as we regained it.

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Adam Afriyie is MPfor Windsor.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.