Children who smoke e-cigarettes are three times more likely to graduate into full-blown use of tobacco, a new report by WHO says.
E-cigarettes are often marketed to children and adolescents by their manufacturers using appealing flavors and often misleading claims about the products.
The World Health Organization is now urging governments to roll out laws to stop non-smokers from starting to use them, to forestall the renormalization of smoking and to protect future generations.
“Nicotine is highly addictive. Electronic nicotine delivery systems are harmful, and must be better regulated,” said Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, adding: “Where they are not banned, governments should adopt appropriate policies to protect their populations from the harms of electronic nicotine delivery systems, and to prevent their uptake by children, adolescents and other vulnerable groups.”
At the moment, 32 countries have banned the sale of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS).
A further 79 have adopted at least one partial measure to prohibit the use of these products in public places, prohibit their advertising, promotion and sponsorship or require the display of health warnings on packaging.
This still leaves 84 countries where they are not regulated or restricted in any way.
Michael Bloomberg, WHO Global Ambassador for non-communicable diseases and injuries and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, said “More than one billion people around the world still smoke. And as cigarette sales have fallen, tobacco companies have been aggressively marketing new products – like e-cigarettes and heated-tobacco products – and lobbied governments to limit their regulation. Their goal is simple: to hook another generation on nicotine. We can’t let that happen.”
The proportion of people using tobacco has declined in most countries, but population growth means the total number of people smoking has remained stubbornly high.
Currently, of the estimated one billion smokers globally, around 80 per cent of them live in poor countries.
Tobacco is responsible for the death of eight million people a year, including one million from second-hand smoke.
Meanwhile, although many countries are making significant progress in the fight against tobacco, the report shows some are not addressing emerging nicotine and tobacco products and failing to regulate them.
More than four times as many people are now covered by at least one WHO-recommended tobacco control measure as compared with 2007.
The six MPOWER measures include; monitoring tobacco use and preventive measures, protecting people from tobacco smoke, offering help to quit, warning about the dangers of tobacco, enforcing bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and raising taxes on tobacco.
The WHO report found that more than half of all countries and half the world’s population are now covered by at least two MPOWER measures at the highest level of achievement.
This reflects an increase of 14 countries and almost one billion more people since the last report in 2019.