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E-cigarettes 'could save lives,' WHO report 'inaccurate': Tobacco addiction experts

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A group of tobacco addiction experts claims that the review on e-cigarettes commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO) and also served as the basis of the report the U.N agency released last month, contains inaccurate data that could lead policymakers and the public missing the potential benefits of electronic cigarettes.

Late last month, WHO released its report on the controversial electronic cigarettes. The agency recommended the regulation of the device and its contents as well as banning its indoor use, advertising and sales to minors.

The report, which will be debated by United Nations member states in October, called for regulatory options including preventing manufacturers of e-cigarettes from making health claims such as marketing the device as something that could help people quit smoking until scientific evidence and regulatory approval are obtained.

In the article "A critique of a WHO-commissioned report and associated article on electronic cigarettes" which was published in the journal Addiction, Ann McNeill, from the national addiction center at King's College London, and colleagues criticized the review made by a group of US-based experts and which served as the basis of WHO's recommendations.

"We identify important errors in the description and interpretation of the studies reviewed, and find many of its key conclusions misleading," McNeill and colleagues wrote.

McNeill pointed out that while e-cigarettes are new and their long-term impact on health is not yet clear, they know that these devices are much safer than cigarettes, which is responsible for more than 6 million deaths worldwide per year.

The authors of the article said that the review implied that the use of e-cigarettes among young people could serve as their gateway to smoking whereas current use of the device by non-smokers is rare and the smoking rates among youths are on the decline. They also said that the review did not acknowledged that compared with traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are not just less harmful but its concentration of toxins is also mostly a tiny fraction of what is present in cigarette smoke.

McNeill and colleagues also said that the review gives the impression that evidence shows that electronic cigarettes make it harder for smokers to quit when the opposite is true. They said that because of the WHO's report and the background paper, policy makers and the public could miss out the health benefits that e-cigarettes could offer such as in saving lives.

"The use of e-cigarettes could save millions of lives during this century, and have the most important public health impact in the history of tobacco use," said co-author Jacques le Houezec, consultant in Public Health and Tobacco dependence in Rennes, France.

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