More than 50 scientists from around the world are warning world health leaders not to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products.
In a letter sent to Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organization, the scientists argue classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products would jeopardize the opportunity to eliminate the number of deaths caused by smoking.
The group of 53 scientists describes it as “tobacco harm reduction,” the idea being that the “1.3 billion people who currently smoke could do much less harm to their health if they consumed nicotine in low-risk, non-combustible form,” according to the letter.
In 2003, a Chinese pharmacist invented the e-cigarette as an alternative to smoking. Instead of lighting up traditional tobacco-filled cigarettes, users use a battery-powered device to inhale nicotine in the form of a vapor.
E-cigarettes and “vaping” would be considered one of the ways smokers could consumer nicotine in low-risk form, according to the scientists.
“The potential for ‘tobacco harm reduction’ products to reduce the burden of smoking related disease is very large, and these products could be among the most significant health innovations of the 21st Century -- perhaps saving hundreds of millions of lives,” the scientists wrote in the letter.
The WHO estimates there could be up to 1 billion preventable tobacco-related premature deaths in the 21st Century. One of the 2025 United Nations non-communicable disease objectives is to drive down smoking and cigarette use to help reduce the number of cardiovascular deaths around the world.
The scientists wrote the letter in advance of WHO addressing it’s tobacco policy, according to the letter. The issue is expected to be addressed at a Framework Convention on Tobacco Control later this year.
The FCTC is an international treaty developed in response to the globalization of the tobacco epidemic, according to its website. The treaty went into effect in February 2005. Under the treaty, 178 countries are parties to the convention and its measures.
The United States has signed the treaty but has never had official ratification.
Classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products would improperly define them as part of the problem, according to the letter from the scientists, who are from Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.
In 2013, industry analysts, estimated worldwide sales of e-cigarettes was $3.5 billion.
The classification as tobacco products, under the treaty would also influence countries laws and regulations on e-cigarette advertising, health warnings and use in public places.
In the letter scientists warn banning e-cigarette advertising is counterproductive.
“Controls on advertising to non-smokers and particularly young people are certainly justified, but a total ban would have many negative effects, including protection of the cigarette market and implicit support for tobacco companies,” according to the letter.
A recent study for the Journal of Pediatrics found that between 2011 and 2013 adolescent (ages 12 to 17) exposure to e-cigarette TV ads increased by more than 250 percent. In young adults, ages 18 to 24, exposure increased by more than 321 percent.
"It is very much like old-fashioned cigarette marketing, with the addition of all these high tech and kiddie things, like flavors," said Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine at the University of California.
In the United States, the tobacco products that currently fall under Food and Drug Administration regulation are cigarettes, cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco products. In April, the FDA released proposed rules for regulating e-cigarettes and a few other tobacco products, like cigars and hookahs.
Some of the proposed rules included the requirement of health warnings, manufacturer registration of products and ingredients and age limits for the purchase of the products.
Earlier this year, E.W. Scripps Company reporters found a highly specialized lab –- one of the first in the country –- to test e-cigarettes. Scientist Prue Talbot and her researchers at University of California Riverside conducted recent tests and tested an e-cigarette bought from a San Diego drugstore.
During the testing, the liquid that is heated and turns into a vapor is put inside a centrifuge and spun. The end product: a small metal pellet.
As more studies of vapor and its second-hand effects are conducted, more municipalities and states are considering bans. More than 40 states across the country do not currently include e-cigarettes in their smoke-free laws, according to research done by the American Lung Association.