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WHO Report Highlights Global Progress Fighting Tobacco Use, But E-cigarettes and New Marketing Techniques Threaten Gains

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
July 26, 2019

Washington, DC – A report issued today by the World Health Organization (WHO) finds countries have made significant progress tackling the global tobacco epidemic, but this progress is threatened by tobacco companies that continually find new ways to market cigarettes to young people, fight life-saving tobacco control policies, and promote products such as e-cigarettes and heated cigarettes with unproven health claims.

The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2019 – a biannual report which focuses this year on tobacco cessation – discusses the increasingly complex threats to public health caused by the introduction and marketing of e-cigarettes and heated cigarettes in countries around the world. Tobacco companies have launched global campaigns for these products that appeal to kids and make unproven claims that they help smokers quit. The report highlights evidence that is at odds with the tobacco industry’s claims about these products.

Despite tobacco companies’ claims that e-cigarettes and heated cigarettes can help smokers quit regular cigarettes, the report finds that there is no evidence that smokers switch completely from cigarettes to heated cigarettes (also called heated tobacco products, or HTPs) and that the evidence supporting e-cigarettes for smoking cessation is limited. For these reasons, the WHO makes clear that it does not endorse these products for smoking cessation. Tobacco companies are using the introduction of these products in public relations campaigns to portray themselves as part of the solution to the global tobacco epidemic when in fact their main business is still to sell cigarettes. They aggressively market cigarettes around the world, often in ways that appeal to kids, and fight effective tobacco control policies in country after country.

The report recommends that each country needs to address how best to deal with e-cigarettes, but at a minimum e-cigarettes should be subject to policies that have proven effective in reducing tobacco use, including plain packaging and bans on flavorings, many of which are particularly attractive to youth. These warnings and recommendations are particularly timely as e-cigarettes like Juul are increasingly introduced in countries around the world and have caused an epidemic of youth use in the United States.

Despite these challenges, countries will continue to make progress if they see through tobacco industry lies and fully implement the evidence-based policies mandated by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Brazil, the host of today’s report launch, is one of the few countries to implement all of the WHO’s recommended policies including large graphic warning labels, increased tobacco taxes, a 100 percent smoke-free law, a national quit line and government-provided cessation treatment services. Adult cigarette smoking in Brazilian capital cities fell from 15.6 percent in 2007 to 10.1 percent in 2017. Continuing its leadership, Brazil recently filed a lawsuit that seeks compensation from British American Tobacco, Philip Morris International and their Brazilian subsidiaries for the financial and health burdens their products have cost the country.

To continue the life-saving progress documented in the WHO report, it is imperative that countries learn from Brazil and fully implement proven tobacco control solutions. Without urgent action, tobacco use will kill one billion people this century.