Sunday, 7 October 2018

Flashy Science Hub and Vaping Parties

Flashy Science Hub and Vaping Parties Fail to Win Friends at W.H.O. Tobacco Talks

GENEVA — Up in the convention center balcony on Day 1 of the World Health Organization’s tobacco treaty negotiations last week, two men posted invitations to a party on the lake.

The event, called the “Nicotine Is Not Your Enemy Soirée,” was held at La Potinière, a posh restaurant with views of the city’s soaring Jet d’Eau fountain and the Alps beyond.

There, guests enjoyed tapas and an open bar passed around e-cigarette samples and listened to an industry advocate, Bernhard-Michael Mayer, scorn anti-vaping activists for insisting on proof that e-cigarettes aren’t harmful.

It’s impossible, he said, to prove that even a piece of fruit is entirely harmless.

To Dr. Mayer and therefore the party sponsor — the buyer Choice Center, which is partly funded by the industry — the message was urgent.

Down the road, delegates from 137 countries were debating whether to crack down on e-cigarettes and other nicotine delivery devices — or embrace them as safer alternatives to traditional cigarettes.

The delegates were there for the regular biannual session to update the health organization’s world tobacco treaty, formally known as the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Since it took effect in 2005, the treaty has had an enormous impact on public health.

It is credited with reducing tobacco use in many countries through advertising bans, graphic package warnings, smoke-free workplaces, and tobacco taxes, among other controls.

But this year the delegates, along with public health regulators around the world, are facing a new, pressing question: what to try to about the explosive growth of alternatives to combustible cigarettes.

Among the devices being grappled with are e-cigarettes, through which users inhale flavored nicotine vapor; so-called heat-not-burn devices, which warm tobacco sticks but do not release carcinogens by igniting them; and new electronic products like Juul, a flash drive look-alike whose popularity has made it a scourge in American secondary schools.

All boast to be safer than traditional cigarettes because they are doing not create the toxic smoke that comes from burning tobacco.

But there are unanswered questions about the health effects of the chemicals that users do inhale, and public health officials worry that the devices are luring too many nonsmokers, creating a new generation of nicotine addicts.

“Every jurisdiction in the world is struggling with e-cigarettes,” said Dr. Judith Mackay, a longtime tobacco industry expert and senior adviser to Vital Strategies, the global health advocacy group, at the event.

“Do they encourage children to start out smoking, and do they actually encourage smokers to quit? It will be a few years before we know the answer.”

The stakes are high for the big tobacco companies, which have increasingly bought up small vaping companies, and launched new alternative nicotine products in the face of declining smoking rates and threats to impose ceilings on nicotine in traditional cigarettes to reduce it to levels that don’t create addiction.

Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, and other traditional tobacco companies now sell alternative nicotine delivery devices.

And so, though the negotiations were closed to corporate interests, the prospect of reaching 137 countries that control their fate brought industry representatives to the present city in swarms.

“Ousting one group of companies from giving their views and sharing their expertise contradicts basic democratic principles,” said Michiel Relink, a vice chairman of Japan Tobacco International, a funder of the group that held the “Nicotine Is Not Your Enemy” party.

Two of the party organizers, Fred Roeder and Yaël Ossowski, registered as journalists to get access to sessions and walked freely around the conference house wearing press badges.

Later, the bureau overseeing the negotiations suspended their badges, citing “misrepresentation.”

Philip Morris International set up a “PMI Science Engagement Hub” to explain the company’s transformation from a maker of Marlboro cigarettes to the maker of Marlboro HeatSticks, and watch a machine compare cigarette smoke and heatstick vapor.

A group of individuals stood outside the convention hall handing out a glossy report titled “No Fire, No Smoke: Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction.”

it had been written by Knowledge- Action-Change, a corporation that receives funding from the Philip Morris Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. Its message: there's “a third way beyond quit or die.”

The W.H.O. maintains that the current wording of the treaty covers all forms of tobacco, including heat-not-burn devices, not just traditional cigarettes.

The treaty does not officially cover e-cigarettes, however, because officials don’t define them as tobacco products.

During the session, the industry advocates, alongside some public health experts were pushing for the delegates to officially embrace all types of alternative devices as harm-reduction tools to help smokers quit — and to exempt heat-not-burn and others from the treaty’s restrictions.

While countries have been generally unified in their approach to regulating traditional cigarettes since the treaty took effect, regulation of other nicotine devices including e-cigarettes vary widely around the world.

Australia has banned the sale and marketing of liquid nicotine utilized in e-cigarettes. Israel has banned Juul’s highest-concentration nicotine pod but allows a less intense one.

In Japan the IQOS, the heat-not-burn device from Philip Morris International, features a 15 percent tobacco market share, the company says.

But in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has not yet allowed the IQOS on the market.

The F.D.A. is also in the midst of a crackdown on e-cigarette makers and retailers for not keeping the products away from minors.

It has demanded that Juul and other makers turn over troves of marketing and research documents.

In September it conducted a surprise inspection of Juul headquarters in San Francisco and carted away more records.

The agency also recently gave Juul 60 days to prove it could keep its devices faraway from youths, or risk a ban on its products.

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