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E-Cigarettes Need Tight Regulation, Scientists Urge WHO

E-cigarettes require strict regulation at a time when there’s been little research into potential harm, more than 100 scientists told the World Health Organization in a letter.

The group said the health organization should support marketing regulation, safety and efficacy data requirements and protection for bystanders from second-hand vapor. A different group of researchers wrote WHO last month urging the group to avoid suppressing sales since the devices may help smokers quit.

The letter dated yesterday, from 129 academics and anti-tobacco advocates, disputed the potential of e-cigarettes as a cessation device. The WHO is preparing a paper it will submit to its tobacco control convention made up of 178 countries.

“The absence of detailed evidence on adverse health effects is not evidence that no effect exists,” according to the letter. “Rather, insufficient time has elapsed to determine what effects exist and their magnitude on a population level.”

The devices are cigarette-like tubes that typically don’t contain tobacco, instead burning a vapor that contains the addictive tobacco product nicotine.

The debate before the WHO mirrors questions surrounding regulation of the devices by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Mitchell Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said last week that e-cigarettes may be more like cessation devices than cigarettes.

The FDA is in the process of completing a proposal to bring e-cigarettes under its tobacco oversight.

The scientists’ letter said the public embraced cigarette filters and “low tar” cigarettes as harm reduction strategies when evidence didn’t exist they made smoking safer. “The negative consequences of these acts remain in cancer and heart disease hospital wards throughout the world,” the scientists wrote in the letter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anna Edney in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Reg Gale at Andrew Pollack

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