So after the original COP10 (Conference Of The Parties) FCTC (Framework Convention on Tobacco Control) meeting was postponed in November – it has now been rescheduled for February the 5th to the 10th in Panama.
You can visit the WHO (World Health Organisation) FCTC COP10 website here.
We have plenty of articles on COP10 here including guides from GSTHR (Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction) and the NNA (New Nicotine Alliance) to help you get your head around what is going on and the threats to vaping and other safer nicotine products.
To top it all off – WHO have recently been sharing a campaign on social media which smells very much like the waste products from a Bull…
E-cigarettes have also been linked to physical injuries, including burns from explosions or malfunctions. pic.twitter.com/x1LRCzRbXp
— World Health Organization (WHO) Western Pacific (@WHOWPRO) January 14, 2024
As you can imagine the WHO posts have caused quite an uproar on social media! Just click on one of the tweets above and read the replies. Some of the great and good in Tobacco Harm Reduction have responded!
UK Government Plans
The UK Government held a Westminster Hall debate on the 18th of January to discuss the COP10.
You can read the transcript of the full debate here.
Andrew Lewer Conservative MP of Northampton South said in his opening speech…
“Despite smoking being one of the leading causes of death in the UK, killing about 80,000 people every year and causing one in four cancer deaths, there is likely to be no ministerial representation from the Government in Panama. It is unfortunate that such an important area of health policy is left to officials. Unlike the climate change COP, the FCTC COP meets and takes decisions behind closed doors, away from the scrutiny of Parliament and the press. The decisions taken in Panama next month will have wide-ranging influence over the UK Government’s approach to smoking cessation and the regulation of tobacco harm reduction products, which many smokers use to quit combustible tobacco.”
To echo my thoughts of how low key the COP10 FCTC is right now, Andrew continued…
“Despite repeated oral and written parliamentary questions on the subject, Ministers have not yet set out the UK Government’s approach to COP10 in any detail. Clearly, none of us wants our Government to be as opaque as the World Health Organisation is on this and many other issues.”
Again another positive statement from Andrew…
“What we do know is that the WHO takes a highly sceptical view of tobacco harm reduction products, including vapes, heated tobacco and oral nicotine pouches, arguing that they pose a risk to health.
…that is in direct contrast to the UK’s world-leading approach to tobacco control. It really is world leading, and we should be proud of what we have accomplished in recent years in driving down smoking rates and saving lives. Public Health England, which is now the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, has been clear that vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking, and that heated tobacco products are considerably less harmful than conventional combusted tobacco cigarettes. That is independent, peer-reviewed evidence from a glittering array of public health experts, clinicians and scientists, not funded by players in the tobacco industry. Not only has it formed the bedrock of the UK Government’s approach to smoking cessation in recent years, but our model has been heralded by public health experts in countries and universities across the world as a beacon to follow.
I therefore pay tribute to the Minister’s predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Neil O’Brien), for the groundbreaking “swap to stop” scheme, which he announced early last year. For many of my constituents, vaping is a vital alternative that helps them to curb their smoking habits and quit, and the “swap to stop” scheme, which offers free vape starter kits to smokers, is a welcome tool in the arsenal.
When the Minister unveils her legislation later this year, we will have the opportunity to debate some of the fundamentals, including ensuring that children do not access nicotine products, and giving trading standards the enforcement powers that they need to tackle rogue traders who sell to minors or sell illegal products. However, we must not throw the baby out with the bathwater by introducing draconian measures that discourage adult smokers, whether deliberately or not, from making the switch to vaping. That is a fundamental point. Over-regulation and blanket bans are not the safe option; they could cost lives.
I agree with the Minister’s remarks in the debate last week that we must clamp down on packaging with cartoon characters, and vapes shaped like toys, but I discourage the misconception that flavoured vapes are not designed for 60-year-old smokers. There is very clear research on this: in a 2003 opinion poll by OnePoll, 83% of smokers stated that flavours helped them to quit smoking, and there is a definitive and widely available study on this matter by the University of Pennsylvania.
Constituents tell me that it is precisely the availability of a wide range of non-tobacco flavours that enables them to make the switch away from harmful cigarettes. I oppose the suggestion from the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) that adults are not interested in fruit-flavoured vapes. Why should adult smokers be discouraged from switching away from smoking, which will cost them their life, by a vaping market that is reduced to tobacco-only flavours that constantly remind them of smoking, and trigger their desire to smoke a cigarette?
There is also a danger that over-regulation will exacerbate the black market. In fact, as colleagues pointed out in the Westminster Hall debate on illegal vapes on Tuesday, the black market has flourished in recent years. Between 2020 and 2023, more than 2.5 million illicit vapes were seized by trading standards across 125 local authorities, and the enforcement agency warns that that is just the tip of the iceberg. Do we want to grow that iceberg, or reduce it as much as possible?
The real risk is that at COP10, the WHO will, as is expected, call for regulatory equivalence for tobacco harm reduction products, so that they are treated in exactly the same way as combustible tobacco products. That is not only counter to the UK Government’s position; if successful, it will significantly harm public health goals, not just in this country but across the world. Some countries have already banned vapes but not cigarettes, and that will cost huge numbers of their citizens’ lives.”
I find little to disagree with in all of Andrews opening statement!
The rest of the debate made a lot of sense and followed similar lines to the above.
Dame Andrea Leadsom – the Parliamentary Secretary of State for Health and Social care responded.
I have underlined some of my favourite parts in the text below, sorry it is such a long quote but it is important to read it fully in context as it refers to both the UK stance on COP10 and some clues for upcoming vaping regulation.
“To tackle the very first question, I do not intend to go to Panama for COP10. That is because I am preparing flat out for our smoke-free generation Bill, including the response to the consultation and the measures. I just do not think it would be a good use of my time to travel on 5 February. However, the Government will be represented by our excellent colleague from the civil service, Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, who has done fantastic work representing the UK’s position.
I will give a rough overview of the UK’s position. There will be discussion about global progress on tobacco control. Of course, the UK is an outlier on the topic of vapes, and we will be putting forward our position that vapes are a very important tool for helping adults to quit.
There will be some discussion on advertising and sponsorship. The UK has no plans to implement further restrictions on advertising and sponsorship, particularly in the COP’s desire to see further restrictions implemented.
On novel and emerging tobacco products, different parties take different approaches. At the moment, the UK is still looking at issues around heated tobacco, so the UK delegation will be in listening mode.
In terms of going further on tobacco control, certainly the UK Government would welcome other parties going further to protect people, but we will be monitoring the negotiations to ensure that nothing becomes mandatory.
Finally, there will be discussions on whether there should be an increase in assessed contributions. The UK intends to press for contributions to stay where they are now. I am very happy to provide a statement to the House after COP10, giving feedback on exactly what happened. I think that covers a lot of the issues raised by colleagues. I hope that was clear, and I would like to again thank everyone for attending.
As has been pointed out, the framework convention on tobacco control was the first treaty negotiated through the World Health Organisation. However, as colleagues will appreciate, I am not one to get misty-eyed about international conventions, or indeed international regulatory frameworks. I am not terribly romantically attached to this, and I feel that the UK’s sovereignty is actually the most important aspect. My priority as the Minister will be to help us in the UK protect our citizens from harm. Is there not a song that goes, “I did it my way”? The UK has a world-leading approach to reducing harms from tobacco and nicotine, and we will continue to do that.
The conference of the parties has, however, been a helpful way of keeping strong tobacco controls at the top of the global health agenda. It is also, as I hope I have just illustrated, a very useful forum for sharing best practice. All papers are presented and all decisions made are published online via the dedicated COP10 website. The UK remains committed to the convention, because we are a world leader in tobacco control. Like many friends around the world, we want to see a tobacco- free future. Next month’s conference will be a fantastic opportunity for us to showcase the UK’s strength, being at the cutting edge of a smoke-free generation. As I have said, our deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, is the chief delegate. I have every confidence that our team will encourage other countries to follow in our example.
Now, my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South is a big fan of common sense, and so am I. I want to reassure everybody that our delegation will be bound by common sense, and not by conference decisions that run contrary to common sense, or indeed to decisions that run counter to our national interest. That includes the decisions we take in helping smokers to quit through quit aids such as vapes and nicotine replacement products. We are a sovereign nation, and it is not within the WHO’s remit to intervene in our internal affairs.
Last week, I was given a couple of opportunities to update the House on our progress towards a smoke-free generation. With permission, I would like to reiterate a few of the points I made then. Our new tobacco and vapes Bill will save lives.
Unlike other consumer products, there is no safe level of smoking: it is a product that kills up to two thirds of its long-term users, causes 70% of lung cancer cases, and massively increases the risk of stillbirth. It causes asthma in children; dementia, stroke and heart failure in old age; disability and early death. Almost every minute of every day, someone is admitted to hospital because of smoking, and up to 75,000 GP appointments every month can be attributed to smoking. It takes a massive toll on both our health and our NHS.
Smoking also takes its toll on our economy. Detractors will say, “But what about the £10 billion a year the Treasury gets from taxes on tobacco—how will the Chancellor do without that?” But independent analysis shows that the overall cost of tobacco to society totals £17 billion a year, completely offsetting—and then some—whatever we receive in taxes. The cost of smoking is equivalent to the annual salaries of more than half a million nurses, almost 400,000 GPs, 400,000 police officers or 400 million GP appointments. Reducing smoking rates will bring down those costs and help our economy to become more productive. Our modelling suggests that the smoke-free generation policy we are looking to introduce will reduce smoking rates in England among 14 to 30-year-olds to close to zero by as early as 2040, and will provide cumulative productivity benefits of up to a staggering £85 billion over the next 50 years. That is why bold action is necessary. We are making history with this Bill.
I took up smoking at 14 and gave it up as my 21st birthday present to myself. It was not easy. To this day, I hate talking about smoking because I sometimes think, “I’d quite like a cigarette”, but I shall never be tempted. It is so hard to quit. To those hon. Members who mentioned that nicotine is not bad in itself—yes, it is; it is desperately addictive. When people try to give up nicotine, they suffer cravings and get irritable. It is really difficult to give up nicotine, no matter how it is consumed. Combustible tobacco certainly has all sorts of other horrendous health issues, but nicotine itself is not a harmless product by any means. There is no safe level of nicotine consumption.
Like so many smokers, I desperately wanted to give up this lethal addiction. We want to help more smokers than ever to quit through significant new funding and support. All smokers deserve our support to quit and lead a healthier, longer life, which is why we have announced we are doubling the funding to stop smoking services across England to a total of £138 million a year, to help around 360,000 people quit every year. We are also backing these efforts with substantial new money to support marketing campaigns.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones) and my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South both pointed out, four in 10 smokers think vaping is as bad as, if not worse than, smoking cigarettes. With this substantial marketing support, the stop smoking campaigns will be common sense and easy to use, setting out the facts to help smokers to be able to quit. We will also provide vapes as a quit aid to those who want to stop smoking.
As colleagues will know, I am passionate about helping mums, mums-to-be and new families, which is why I have asked officials to redouble our efforts to tackle smoking in pregnancy. Women who smoke during pregnancy are two and a half times more likely to give birth prematurely. Smoking is also a significant driver of stillbirth. I want to do everything I can to spare parents the heartbreaking tragedy of losing a baby. One in 10 mothers smokes at the time of delivery; this figure rises to one in five in some parts of the country. Pregnant women who receive financial incentives are twice as likely to successfully quit in pregnancy as those who do not. We must also protect pregnant women and their babies from second-hand smoke. We are working to roll out a financial incentive scheme by the end of 2024 to help all pregnant smokers—and, crucially, their partners— to quit.
As I have said, vapes can be an effective tool to help smokers quit. That is why we have committed to providing 1 million vapes to smokers through our “swap to stop” programme. That is a different approach from that taken in the WHO proposals; we are proud to take it, because we know it works.
Along with millions of parents across the country, I am alarmed by the number of children using vapes, a device that should be used only by adult smokers who want to quit smoking. Youth vaping has tripled in the last three years, and one in five children has used a vape. We have a duty to protect children from under-age vaping while their lungs and brains are still developing, so we are taking decisive action to reduce the appeal and availability of vapes.
In our recent public consultation, we sought views on restricting flavours, point-of-sale displays and packaging, and on restrictions on disposable vapes. We will take tough new action to reduce the appeal and availability of vapes to children through the tobacco and vapes Bill.
I totally get the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South made about flavours. These are all areas that are being carefully looked at, but he will appreciate that Cherryade, Yazoo and bubble-gum flavours are not really designed for him and me. Packages that look like a little Coke bottle, or are brightly coloured, like a bubble-gum package, are marketed not at him, but at children. Of course we see the vape stand right next to the sweets stand, and vapes are sold, conveniently, at pocket-money price, so let us not be naive about this. A lot of the flavours and colours are specifically designed to appeal to children, and that has to stop. A strong approach to enforcement is a crucial part of making sure that it has a real-world effect.”
The paragraph above is a bit concerning though. As a 48 year old who vapes only Bubblegum flavour I do hope they do not get too trigger happy about flavours.
“Under-age and illicit sales of tobacco, and more recently vapes, are undermining the Government’s work to regulate the industry and protect public health. We are cracking down on this appalling illicit trade by backing enforcement agencies, including Border Force, His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and trading standards, with £30 million extra per year. In the tobacco and vapes Bill, we will introduce powers to give on-the-spot fines, to tackle under-age sales.“
All very promising indeed!
This sentence in particular caught my eye in the above…
“We are a sovereign nation, and it is not within the WHO’s remit to intervene in our internal affairs.”
The TPA (Taxpayers Protection Alliance) are still going ahead with their counter meeting “Good Cop Bad Cop” you can find out more here.
TPA say about the event…
“Good COP will feature nearly two dozen tobacco harm reduction experts, representing 11 different countries and highlighting some of the leading experts on consumer issues, national and global policies, and the science surrounding harm reduction.
Good COP will be taking place from Monday, February 5 to Friday, February 10 in Panama City, Panama – several kilometers away from where global delegates will be meeting at COP10. TPA and the Good COP participants will be monitoring the WHO’s meeting and providing running commentary via livestreams, media interviews, blogs, and social media.
TPA will be live streaming the event for persons unable to attend in person and we hope you’ll tune in and watch and virtually interact with our esteemed experts.”
— Martin C (@NannyFreeState) January 16, 2024
Will Everyone Attend?
I have to say there is not much fanfare regarding the COP10 V2? It all seems to be very low key? How many states will actually take part? Will they have bigger political issues to focus on – for instance elections? Will they be worried about another cancellation and the expenses and upheaval this will entail?
Perhaps an even bigger issue is the stability of Panama. Even today as I write this the Smart Traveller Gov AU website is advising caution when travelling to the country.
So will security and safety concerns mean some delegations will not attend?