15 May 2001
PROTECTING PUBLIC HEALTH REQUIRES NEWTOBACCO PRODUCT REGULATION, SAYS WHO
Current methods to regulate tobacco products are not protecting public health and need to be improved if we are to save lives, said the World Health Organization (WHO) today.
Releasing a monograph entitled "Advancing Knowledge on Regulating Tobacco Products," WHO called for an overhaul of the existing testing methods that measure the tar, nicotine and other yields of tobacco and tobacco smoke and to establish a new basis for measuring, regulating and labelling tobacco products globally.
The monograph recommends that governments consider including in any future regulation of tobacco products the following elements:
Cigarettes and other tobacco products are not only highly addictive but are among the most highly engineered consumer products on the market today. Yet, all over the world, tobacco products are excluded from consumer protection laws such as food and drug legislation. Existing regulatory structures are based on scientific information which is out of date. Where regulations do exist they are not well implemented.
For the first time ever, the monograph brings together the latest international scientific opinion on tobacco product regulation, a consultative process begun at the WHO International Conference on tobacco products held in Oslo, Norway, in 2000.
Currently, 4 million people die due to tobacco every year. The death toll is expected to rise to 10 million by 2030. In the absence of more effective tobacco product regulation, the global epidemic of tobacco death and disease will continue to accelerate, fostered by unchecked marketing that contributes to youth addiction and the unrestricted manufacture of dangerous products, says WHO. WHO is calling for a common international regulatory framework designed to achieve the public health goal of reducing the global death and disease attributable to tobacco.
"A cigarette is a euphemism for a cleverly crafted product that delivers just the right amount of nicotine to keep its user addicted for life before killing him or her," said Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of WHO. "A cigarette is the only consumer product which, when consumed as indicated, kills. Food sold by tobacco companies is regulated but their tobacco brands are not. Tobacco needs to be globally regulated if we are to save lives," she added, reiterating a call she first made at the 1999 Ninth International Conference of Drug Regulatory Authorities in Berlin.
The monograph identifies several areas of deficiency in current tobacco product regulation. Current machine tests do not measure actual human exposure to tobacco smoke and provide consumers with a false sense of security about the health impact of tobacco products, says WHO. Machine testing methods developed by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) underestimate the real tar, nicotine and other yields and do not measure what consumers actually inhale. The machines also do not accommodate post-1960s cigarettes that effectively "cheat" the machines with hidden ventilation holes in filters or rapidly burning cigarette paper.
Another problem identified by the monograph is the "light" or "mild" labels found on certain brands of cigarettes. Scientists have recommend the banning of such labels because they give consumers the false impression of reduced health risks resulting from lower tar or nicotine measurements derived from FTC/ISO tests. Real-life smokers of low and ultra-low tar and nicotine cigarettes alter their smoking patterns to compensate for the low levels, resulting in actual tar exposure that is the same as for so-called ‘full strength’ cigarettes, says the monograph.
The additives that tobacco companies use in their products is another area of concern identified by scientists. Several known additives have been identified by scientists as carcinogenic and dangerous to human health. There has been minimum regulatory scrutiny of additives, says the monograph, calling for full disclosure of all additives and ingredients used in all tobacco products so that adequate regulations may be established to protect people’s health.
To help in the development of global tobacco product regulations, WHO has established a Scientific Advisory Committee on Tobacco Product Regulation (SACTob). The Committee, which has met twice so far, will evaluate and recommend the most appropriate and effective regulatory frameworks for tobacco products.
For further information, journalists can contact Mr Gregory Hartl, WHO Spokesperson, WHO, Geneva. Telephone (+41 22) 791 4458. Fax (+41 22) 791 4858. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org All WHO Press Releases, Fact Sheets and Features as well as other information on this subject can be obtained on Internet on the WHO home page http://www.who.ch/ For an electronic copy of the monograph, please visit: http://tobacco.who.int