New nicotine and tobacco products are an emerging health threat

Creating tobacco-free environments is important to encourage smoking cessation. Unsplash / Kristaps Solims

Geneva, Jul 28 (UNNews) – Despite the fact that many countries have made progress in the fight against tobacco, the commercialization of new nicotine products has gained ground in many places, especially among the new generations, who have started to use e-cigarettes and other heated tobacco products dangerous to health, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

The Global Report on the Tobacco Epidemic for 2021 shows that some countries fail to regulate these nicotine and tobacco products or warn consumers of their harmful effects.

The progress

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highlighted the persistence of many countries over the past year in promoting tobacco control despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the progress made in the fight against tobacco, the report highlights that the number of people protected by at least one tobacco control measure reached 5.3 billion, a figure that is four times the one billion in 2007, the year in which the WHO launched the MPOWER strategy. , which in Spanish means empower.

The six points that make up MPOWER are:

  • monitor tobacco use and prevention measures;
  • protect the population from tobacco smoke;
  • offer help to quit smoking;
  • warn of the dangers of tobacco;
  • enforce bans on advertising, promotion, and sponsorship;
  • increase tobacco taxes.

The percentage of the population that uses tobacco has decreased in most countries, although the total number of smokers remains high due to population growth and continues to cause eight million deaths each year, one million of them due to second-hand smoke.

Of the one billion smokers in the world, about 80% live in low- and middle-income countries.

According to the Organization, more than half of the countries and half of the world’s population are protected by at least two of the measures suggested in MPOWER, that is, 14 countries and almost a billion more people than in 2019.

Currently, more than 50% of the world’s population sees graphic health warnings on tobacco products; however, progress is not uniform across all strategy measures. The increase in tobacco taxes has advanced slowly and 49 countries have not yet adopted any MPOWER measure.

Out of strategy

In addition, new tobacco and nicotine products are beyond the scope of the strategy.

The annual report includes for the first time data on electronic nicotine delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes.

Of those products, he cautions that tobacco companies and other manufacturers seek to appeal to children and adolescents, adding a wide variety of attractive scents and false claims.

Likewise, it indicates that the fondness for electronic cigarettes and other heated tobacco products increases the probability of future tobacco use by three times.

For this reason, the UN health agency called on governments to regulate this market to prevent smoking from being considered socially normal again.

New challenges

“We must remain attentive to the challenges posed by new nicotine products and heated tobacco systems,” warned Dr. Tedros, recalling that nicotine is highly addictive and harmful.

The head of the WHO added that if the authorities of each country do not prohibit them completely, they must at least implement adequate provisions to protect the population and prevent new age groups from starting to consume them.

Currently only 32 countries – two thirds of them high income – prohibit the sale of electronic nicotine delivery systems and 79 nations have at least a partial measure in place to prohibit their use in public places, limit their promotion or sponsorship or require warnings about health risks on packaging.

With regard to taxes on these products, they are generally very low.

Among the countries that have adopted measures against the use of electronic cigarettes are almost all of the American continent and Europe.

In contrast, 84 countries have no regulation or restriction for these products, as is the case in virtually all of Africa.

The report acknowledges the difficulty in regulating nicotine products and heated tobacco systems, mainly because of their diversity and rapid evolution. Some of them can be modified by the consumer and others are marketed as non-nicotine products, but when analyzed it is found that they do contain this ingredient.

“Distinguishing nicotine products from non-nicotine products, or even some tobacco products, can be nearly impossible. And this is just one of the ways the industry undermines tobacco control measures, ”explained Dr Rüdiger Krech, Director of the WHO Department of Health Promotion.

In its conclusion, the report urged countries to remain attentive to what is happening with this new market and to maintain the measures that have proven to reduce tobacco consumption, extending their application to nicotine products and electronic tobacco systems, but without being distracted by the proliferation of these.

He also called for the protection of the population from the damage of tobacco and nicotine to remain a health priority in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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