1) WHAT PROBLEM ARE THESE POLICIES AND POSITIONS SUPPOSED TO ADDRESS?
At present, the FCTC organization refrains from recommending or even positively mentioning electronic nicotine delivery systems, or vaping devices. One of the latest briefs, dated 24. May 2018, they claim at the evidence on vaping devices is “inconclusive,” and “urge the COP not to engage in lengthy debate on this topic”.
What’s more, they have specifically claimed that ENDS devices do not have enough research or evidence to prove that they are less harmful than traditional combustion tobacco.
This claim is directly contradictory to Public Health England’s own research and official position, which has time and time again found that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking.
At the 2018 FCTC COP8 meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, Anne Bucher, director-general of the EU’s Health and Food Safety Directorate, mentioned that despite containing no tobacco, vaping and e-cigarette devices should be considered ‘tobacco products’, subject to all the same laws, restrictions, and bans. The treaty itself sought to enforce the same restrictions on vaping and e-cigarettes as cigarettes and cigars. This will actually hamper people’s ability to quit smoking, and thus is antithetical to the mission and statements of the United Kingdom’s own public health agencies.
The FCTC’s treaty proposals aim to equate vaping products with traditional tobacco products, which is a claim that does not hold up to scrutiny and should be outright objected to by the UK member delegates at COP9.
Rather, the FCTC must revisit its recommendations on ENDS products in order to differentiate them completely from traditional tobacco and to encourage member states to implement the research conducted by bodies such as Public Health England that greenlight vaping as a powerful harm reduction tool for smokers.
2) JUSTIFICATION OF PROPOSALS
The FCTC is a global treaty organized by the World Health Organization. It claims its authority from the Conference of the Parties member countries, as well as the Convention Secretariat. As such, all recommendations that come from the delegation debates and discussions are based merely on topics and scientific evidence that is accepted by the Convention Secretariat, rather than proposed by the individual member countries.
This is antithetical to the United Kingdom’s broader democratic goals domestically, and its commitment to further evidence-based policy in treaty-making organizations abroad.
The main decision-making authorities within the COP process come to their conclusions based on political considerations rather than scientific ones, outright rejecting peer-reviewed scientific claims that seek to amplify broader voices of tobacco harm reduction. Rather, the FCTC and the COP are mostly focused on tobacco control and eradication, rather than harm mitigation and reduction.
3) TRANSPARENCY AND CONSULTATION
The vast majority of the advice and evidence accepted by the FCTC and COP is submitted by nongovernmental organisation members and member states. Most, if not all, nongovernmental organisations that are also members of the COP are strictly tobacco control groups that also do not discuss the advantages or life-saving potential of harm-reducing technologies such as vaping.
Groups such as the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations have had their observer status to the COP rejected on such frivolous grounds. Because the entire mission of their organisation is not “the eradication of tobacco” in name, it is not allowed to participate or even witness the proceedings. This is also true of our organisation, the Consumer Choice Center.
The only scientific evidence on vaping that has been allowed into the proceedings are drafted, funded, and proposed by tobacco control groups. To no one’s surprise, much of this evidence posits that ENDS and vaping devices “have no proven potential” to be a safer alternative to traditional tobacco.
In addition, the FCTC’s COP, in recent years, has committed large sections of its programming and delegate member time to decide whether journalists should be allowed to sit on or reports on various proceedings of the parties in attendance. This has resulted in dozens of journalists being stripped of their accreditations and forcibly removed from the physical event. This stands against the UK’s defence of freedom of speech.
This rejection of current scientific evidence and consensus, especially from the UK’s own health bodies, is a troubling and problematic state of affairs for the entire FCTC COP procedure. As is the growing “closed-door” proceedings that do not allow in a free press. This must be challenged on all fronts.
4) EXPLORE THE THREAT OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES OF PROPOSALS WITHIN COP9.
Public health policies in the United Kingdom are harmed by the FCTC because the treaty mechanism serves to disincentivise policies that endorse general harm reduction via vaping devices. Seen by the COP, the UK’s policies that encourage smokers to switch to vaping are seen as problematic and could result in sanctions and penalties by the global health body.
What’s more, the stated recommendations of largely outlawing or discouraging vaping devices and vaping technology by the treaty attach compliance with “implementation funds”. That means that member countries that pass restrictions on vaping products are “rewarded” with hundreds of millions of pounds. This was the case with the Republic of Georgia in 2017, which received millions of pounds in exchange for passing a tough anti-tobacco law which also targeted vaping devices. By passing the bill, the Georgian government received promises that it would vastly increase its chances of future European Union accession. The vast majority of the money offered came from British taxpayers, by way of the British delegation to the FCTC.
In this way, the UK’s membership in the FCTC’s COP is not only helping support health policies that directly contradict its own public health establishment, but it also means that British taxpayer dollars are being used as an incentive for countries to implement policies that discourage vaping and make it more difficult. The FCTC’s policies and grants are also being used to coerce current and hopeful member countries that are in large need of developmental funds to grow their economies.
5) FIT FOR PURPOSE.
- Because of the evidence stated above, the FCTC protocol has become more of a tool for political power and control rather than considerate public health policies. The goal of harm reduction, which is key to the United Kingdom’s policies toward smokers, is now completely abandoned by the FCTC, if not outright rejected in a hostile manner when brought up by researchers and member countries.
- The WHO’s FCTC has strayed from its original intent on helping switch from tobacco to become an organisation that is wholly concentrated on eradicating all alternatives that could help save lives. Reduced-risk products are innovative tools that have helped millions of ordinary Britons and even more people around the world, but the status quo within the FCTC COP ensures that these products cannot get a fair hearing.
- Rather than serving as an international platform to discuss smarter and more effective ways to reduce tobacco consumption, the FCTC has instead become an insular sounding board for tobacco control groups and member country delegations that wish to centralise and bureaucratise efforts to reduce smoking, all the while denying the very real positive impacts associated with alternative nicotine delivery products such as vaping. The revolution of harm reduction has so far been championed by UK public health authorities and has encouraged millions of entrepreneurs to creatively offer these products to former smokers. For the FCTC and affiliated organisations, this robust private sector revolution is a movement to be condemned and thwarted. The United Kingdom can longer afford to tacitly agree with the direction of this organisation and is recommended to champion the scientific cause and purpose of harm-reducing technologies such as vaping. With the United Kingdom’s influence, the FCTC could once more achieve its purpose of reducing tobacco consumption around the world.