The minimum acceptable standard for the World Health Organization is for it to provide accurate and up-to-date information regarding people’s health. However, a recent dogmatic message made by the WHO offers anything but. On July 27, 2021, the World Health Organization published a tweet extolling the ‘harms’ of vaping:
The aerosols from e-cigarettes contain toxic substances that can cause
🫀 cardiovascular diseases
🫁 lung disorders
🧠 damage to children’s brain development#CommitToQuit e-cigarettes now for a healthier life!
Here’s how 👉https://t.co/7OReiIXXpd pic.twitter.com/MvwAZqB8oB
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) July 27, 2021
The real ‘harm’ here is that this tweet is far from being accurate or even remotely true. Where the WHO sourced this information is anyone’s guess, as the real picture doesn’t match the narrative. Today we will look at the offending tweet and discuss exactly how and why it is inaccurate.
The WHO Policies: All Talk, No Facts
While you would expect the World Health Organization to be an advocate for technologies that reduce harm, sadly, this is not the case. In recent months, the WHO, one of the world’s leading bodies on public health, has been accused of spreading blatant misinformation, especially when it comes to vaping…. ‘Public health’? Anything but…
The publication of misleading facts is more than annoying. Frankly, it is dangerous.
Vaping is a viable and healthier alternative to smoking.
The WHO exhibits great influence in poorer countries, some of which have the highest percentage of smokers anywhere globally. By publishing anti-vaping propaganda and influencing political policy, the WHO is effectively pushing millions of people back towards smoking, the harms of which have been known for decades.
To quote the WHO directly:
“Over 80% of the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco users live in low and middle-income countries.”
Perhaps the saddest thing (aside from the fact that this will cost people their lives) is that many poorer countries lack the funding and means to conduct independent scientific research and instead are forced to adopt draconian measures taken at face value.
It is even more remiss when you consider that there are financial incentives offered to those enacting these policies.
One has to question their motives, especially when the WHO recently issued an award to Indian Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, on world no tobacco day after he enacted a ban on smoking cessation devices. Even the most cursory search on google will show you that vaping devices do not contain tobacco.
The WHO ‘Facts’ Debunked
Looking at the bulleted points of the WHO tweet, one is left perplexed. The tweet claims that “aerosols from e-cigarettes contain toxic substances that cause cancer, cardiovascular diseases, lung disorders and damage to children’s brain development”.
If this tweet was discussing cigarettes, you could be inclined to agree. However, the bulleted points actually demonstrate something entirely different to their intended message when it comes to vaping.
To directly quote the Science Media Centre, Prof John Britton, Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology, University of Nottingham, states:
“This report demonstrates that, sadly, the WHO still doesn’t understand the fundamental difference between addiction to tobacco smoking, which kills millions of people every year, and addiction to nicotine, which doesn’t.”
The above source contains other quotes from research fellows at Queen Mary University London and the University of Oxford that echo the above sentiment. It should also be noted that the above also openly declares no conflict of interest in their summaries. Could the WHO say the same?
The blurring of the lines between smoking (which has been proven to be harmful) and vaping doesn’t offer any equivalence. Here is why in simple terms:
Electronic cigarettes do not rely on combustion to produce vapor. It is this combustion that causes the vast majority of harmful compounds in cigarette smoke. The tobacco plant contains several chemicals found in most organic fauna, including sugars, minerals, and chlorophyll. Tobacco also contains nicotine.
When the tobacco plant is burned (in a cigarette), the following compounds are released:
- Hydrogen Cyanide
- Carbon Monoxide
It is these compounds that are harmful to health, not the nicotine itself.
Vaping | The Sum of Its Parts
Unlike Cigarettes, electronic nicotine delivery devices contain three elements. Because they are not burned, there is no transition between the ‘before’ and ‘after’.
In simple terms, what goes in is the same as what goes out. The liquid used in electronic cigarettes contains three things, and three things only:
It should also be noted that the latter two components are entirely optional and can be varied in concentration, according to the user’s preference.
None of the above has been proven to cause cancer.
While the WHO tweet makes for alarming (or alarmist) reading, a report from the National Center for Biotechnology Information categorically states in its abstract:
“Electronic cigarettes deliver nicotine without combustion of tobacco and appear to pose a low cardiovascular risk.”
Regarding lung disorders, vaping was incorrectly attributed to the EVALI outbreak of 2019. The offending culprit was found to be vitamin E acetate in black market THC carts. It is important to note that this compound is not present in normal circumstances and with controlled and regulated liquids.
An Alternative Approach?
While the WHO may try to demonize vaping, there are good things that it can offer.
Vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking. It has been proven to be more effective in stopping smoking than traditional nicotine replacement therapies, such as gums or patches. The results speak for themselves, with positive links between the number of people quitting and their use of vaping devices.
Certain health authorities provide regularly reviewed data, documenting its effectiveness in preventing smoking.
It also reduces harm. Take, for instance, recent information provided by Cochrane. They clearly state that the use of E-cigarettes did not detect any clear evidence of harm. It is important to note that Cochrane does not accept commercial or conflicted funding. An article by the British Heart foundation echoes these sentiments.
When the above is viewed objectively, it is difficult to see why the WHO intends to reverse progress with a technology that is far better than the alternative.
Vaping faces several challenges, and people’s health relies on its triumph. Lobbyism and hidden agendas are playing a large part in the narrative. In addition, there is a constant confusion (and some might say deliberate association) between smoking and vaping.
Simply put, they are mutually exclusive. The former is already known to be a known source of harm. The latter, a way to negate and prevent that harm. It is our responsibility to educate and inform as to the differences, as they are key to the argument.