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Still hooked

The World Health Organization has warned against electronic cigarettes and similar devices for being dangerous to health and urged for regulation to curb the tobacco industry’s tactics to get young people hooked on nicotine.

“Nicotine is highly addictive. Electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) are harmful, and must be better regulated,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic 2021, that focused on new and emerging products, was published last week, singled out ENDS for tighter regulation for maximum public health protection. It said ENDS manufacturers often target youths with thousands of tantalizing flavors and reassuring statements.

Former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, WHO global ambassador for non-communicable diseases, said there were still more than a billion smokers around the world. “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,” he said.

The UN health agency is particularly concerned by people under 20 using e-cigarettes due to the harmful effects of nicotine on brain development. It recommends that governments do whatever they can to prevent non-smokers from taking up e-cigarettes, for fear of “renormalizing smoking in society.”

Although the proportion of smokers has fallen in many countries, population growth means that the total number of smokers remains “stubbornly high” the WHO said. It stressed that tobacco is responsible for the death of eight million people a year, including one million from second-hand smoke.

As the tobacco industry evolves, so must governments, especially if future generations are to be protected from the harmful effects of their products such as electronic nicotine delivery systems that have avoided regulation and somehow become cool enough among the youth to pose a threat to public health. As it is, the responsibility of government to protect its population, especially the youth from the dangers of smoking and the lifelong effects of addiction, regulations have to be updated regularly to remain relevant and close loopholes that can be exploited.*

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