The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) said today that, contrary to claims by advertisers, the electronic cigarette – a battery-powered product usually made of stainless steel and resembling a real cigarette – has not been proven a safe or legitimate nicotine replacement therapy for smokers trying to quit.
Marketers have claimed that the product helps smokers break their addictions to tobacco, with some even going so far as to imply that WHO views it as a legitimate nicotine replacement therapy like nicotine gum, lozenges and patches.
“The electronic cigarette is not a proven nicotine replacement therapy,” said Dr. Ala Alwan, Assistant Director-General of WHO’s Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health Cluster.
“WHO has no scientific evidence to confirm the product’s safety and efficacy. Its marketers should immediately remove from their web sites and other informational materials any suggestion that WHO considers it to be a safe and effective smoking cessation aid.”
Users puff on the electronic cigarette as they would a real one, but they do not light it, and it produces no smoke. Rather, the product, which has a chamber for storing liquid nicotine in various concentrations, produces a fine, heated mist, which is absorbed into the lungs.
The electronic cigarette is sold in China, where it was developed in 2004, and in a number of other countries, including Brazil, Canada, Finland, Israel, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
WHO said it has no evidence that the product helps people quite smoking, adding that it knows of no studies showing that it is a safe and effective nicotine replacement therapy. The agency added that the only way to know if the product works is to test it.
“If the marketers of the electronic cigarette want to help smokers quit, then they need to conduct clinical studies and toxicity analyses and operate within the proper regulatory framework,” said Douglas Bettcher, acting director of WHO’s Tobacco Free Initiative.
“Until they do that, WHO cannot consider the electronic cigarette to be an appropriate nicotine replacement therapy, and it certainly cannot accept false suggestions that it has approved and endorsed the product,” he added.
The WHO Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation is set to address the electronic cigarette, among other topics, when it meets from 12 to 14 November in Durban, South Africa.