Evidence-based policies benefit the men and women who smoke

Authored by  G Baker, J Olson , M Gilchrist

Published in Qeios    

The WHO study group on tobacco product regulation (TobReg) published their eighth report on the scientific basis of tobacco product regulation in May, 2021. The report makes recommendations aimed at addressing “a number of issues concerning novel and emerging nicotine and tobacco products, such as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), electronic non-nicotine delivery systems (ENNDS) and heated tobacco products (HTPs)”. The report concludes by making a number of policy recommendations on HTPs and ENDS that, if implemented, would severely restrict both the availability of these products, and accurate information about them for those adults would otherwise continue to use cigarettes. Whilst the report aims to “protect the health of […] populations, especially the younger generation”, it neglects to consider the potential negative consequences of these recommendations on the more than 1 billion people who smoke. We all agree that smoke-free products carry some risk compared to smoking abstinence or cessation. Nevertheless, the body of available scientific evidence indicates that these products are a better choice for adults who would otherwise continue to smoke.

Rather than promoting regulation that would encourage these adults to switch to better alternatives such as e-cigarettes and HTPs, the policy recommendations put forward in the TobReg report will instead maintain the status quo—and support the continuation of smoking, the most harmful form of nicotine and tobacco consumption. The report omits or obscures key information that is vital for science-based policymaking, and there is a clear disconnect between the available body of scientific evidence and the policy recommendations put forth in the report. Here, we share our perspective on the TobReg report in order to contribute to an open, science- and evidence-based dialog.