The World Health Organization’s Opposition to Tobacco Harm Reduction: A Threat to Public Health?

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a treaty created by the World Health Organization in 2004, seeks “to protect present and future generations from the devastating health, social, environmental and economic consequences of tobacco consumption and exposure to tobacco smoke.”

Since the FCTC came into force in 2005, the number of smokers in the world has increased, mainly in China and other poor countries that were the FCTC’s primary target. Clearly, the FCTC has not been a stellar success on its own terms.

A key problem with the FCTC is that it is beholden to the idea that the only way to reduce smoking is for smokers to “quit or die.” It is thus highly sceptical of the potential for new technologies, such as vape devices (also known as “electronic cigarettes”), to reduce smoking-related harms.

If the FCTC is genuinely committed to the ‘right to health’ then it must listen to those who are taking control of the things that determine their health – and to those who are helping them to do so. In other words, it should open itself up to participation by groups representing vapers, snus users, and companies producing these and other less harmful nicotine-containing products.

Meanwhile, to address genuine conflicts of interest, the FCTC should open itself up to scrutiny. That means, at the very least, permitting journalists to attend all sessions of COPs and technical committees. Better yet, the FCTC might livestream all its proceedings over the web.

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