- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2014

The World Health Organization is poised to label e-cigarettes as the same public health threat as regular cigarettes, a leaked document reported by The Times of India claimed.

The document sparked an immediate backlash among those who see e-cigs as a safer alternative to cigarettes. About 50 top researchers around the world sent a petition to WHO to ask for a reconsideration of intended policy and argue that the electronic devices could actually save lives, the newspaper reported.

The document and the petition come as a somewhat dramatic prelude to the WHO-sponsored Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that’s set for Moscow this October. The document was leaked from a recent meeting of panelists who were preparing for this meeting, The Times of India said.

“If the WHO gets its way and extinguishes e-cigarettes, it will not only have passed up what is clearly one of the biggest public health innovations of the last three decades that could potentially save millions of lives, but it will have abrogated its own responsibility under its own charter to empower consumers to take control of their own health, something which they are already doing themselves in their millions,” said Gerry Stimson, emirates professor at the Imperial College in London, one of the signers of the researchers’ letter to WHO, The Times of India reported.

About 1.3 billion around the world currently smoke. WHO says that up to a billion people could die prematurely from smoking-related causes before the end of the 21st century. Some say that e-cigarettes could help with these statistics considerably.

“For the WHO to suggest that e-cigarettes are as risky as other tobacco products would send an erroneous and bleak message to the millions of current e-cigarette users who have used them to quit smoking,” said Robert West, another signatory to the letter and the professor of Health Psychology and director of Tobacco Studies at University College in London.

“It would discourage smokers from trying them and we would miss out on a major opportunity to reduce smoke related deaths globally,”  he said.