Governments should ban the use of electronic cigarettes indoors and in public places and outlaw tactics to lure young users, the World Health Organization said in a report released Tuesday. It also raised concerns about the role of big tobacco companies in the fast-growing market.
Considering the many uncertainties surrounding e-cigarettes, which have been on the market for less than a decade, the U.N. organization said it was appropriate to prohibit their use indoors “until exhaled vapour is proven to be not harmful to bystanders.”
It also called for regulation to ensure the products contain a standard dose of nicotine, as the drug content now varies widely between manufacturers. And to stop children from picking up the habit, it said that e-cigarette sales to minors should be banned and that fruity, candy-type flavorings should be prohibited.
The report, which summarizes the growing body of evidence on the health effects of electronic cigarettes, was prepared by the WHO for the U.N. Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, to be held in mid-October in Moscow. The organization has no power to enforce its recommendations, but delegates to the meeting could endorse the measures for inclusion in a treaty or call for more studies before taking further action. One wild card hanging over the meeting is the political standoff between Russia and the West over the crisis in Ukraine, which could hamper international cooperation.
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The U.N. tobacco treaty, adopted in 2003, is designed to reduce illnesses and deaths caused by tobacco. The signatory countries promise to eliminate or limit tobacco advertising, to raise cigarette taxes and to take steps to end smoking in public places. Under the administration of George W. Bush, the United States signed the treaty in 2004, but neither Bush nor President Barack Obama has sent it to the Senate for ratification. That left the United States, along with Morocco, Mozambique, Switzerland, Argentina, Haiti and Cuba as the only countries among the treaty’s roughly 180 signatories not to have ratified it.
The organization noted in the report Tuesday its apprehensions about Big Tobacco becoming “increasingly aggressive in the battle for the fast-growing e-cigarette market.” It said although the current crop of independent e-cigarette companies had “no interest in perpetuating tobacco use, the tobacco industry involved in the production and sale of electronic nicotine delivery systems certainly” does.
Unlike conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes employ a battery-powered heating element to turn a solution of propylene glycol and nicotine into an inhalable vapor.