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Transcript of WHO podcast - 26 September 2008

WHO says there is no evidence that the electronic cigarette helps smokers to quit smoking. WHO this week asked manufacturers and marketers to stop their unproved therapy claims.

Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast. My name is Veronica Riemer and this is episode 48.

Does the electronic cigarette help smokers to quit smoking? WHO says there is no evidence that it does and has asked manufacturers and marketers to stop their unproved therapy claims.

It looks like a real cigarette and users puff on it like a real cigarette. But it is made of stainless steel and is powered by a rechargeable battery. It is called the electronic cigarette. It has a chamber for storing liquid nicotine in different concentrations. Developed in China in 2004, it is marketed as a legitimate therapy for smokers trying to quit. That is because, users do not light it and it produces no smoke. Rather, it produces a fine, heated mist, which is absorbed into the lungs.

The electronic cigarette is sold not only in China, but in many other countries. But it is not a proven nicotine replacement therapy. WHO has asked manufacturers and marketers to stop their unproved therapy claims. Dr Douglas Bettcher from the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative explained to journalists in Geneva why.

Dr Douglas Bettcher: Any assertion that WHO considers the electronic cigarette to be a legitimate therapy for smokers trying to quit is absolutely 100% false. It is of great concern that certain manufactures of these electronic cigarettes around the world have included WHO's name for example on their web, or in their package inserts or in their advertisements as having endorsed these products. This is absolutely false. To this effect, WHO in fact has taken very very strict action. We have sent cease and desist letters to the specific manufacturers of the electronic cigarettes to tell them to absolutely remove WHO's name and logo from any inserts, any advertisements. We have also informed their respective governments as well to take action against companies to make sure that these companies remove our name from any of their promotional materials.

Veronica Riemer: Marketers of the electronic cigarette describe it as a means to help smokers break their addictions to tobacco. Some even imply that WHO views it as a legitimate nicotine replacement therapy. Dr Bettcher explained why WHO has not endorsed this product.

Dr Douglas Bettcher: The WHO knows of absolutely no scientific evidence whatsoever that would confirm that the electronic cigarette is a safe and effective smoking cessation device. Toxicological tests and clinical trials have not been performed on this product and the number of chemical additives in the product, which could be very toxic, has not yet been confirmed. If the manufactures and marketers of the electronic cigarette want to help smokers to quit, then they should operate within proper regulatory frameworks. What that means is that rigorous and peer review clinical studies in toxicology profiles need to be done, independent national scientific based regulatory authorities must be involved, companies manufacturing these products within that context of proper regulation would need to complete a list of ingredients in the electronic cigarettes. They must follow randomized clinical trials to scientifically demonstrate the effect of electronic cigarettes versus other nicotine replacement therapies and placebos as far as helping smokers to quit.

Veronica Riemer: A WHO Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation is scheduled to discuss this issue, among others, in its meeting in Durban, South Africa, in November. The group will make recommendations to WHO's Director-General Dr Margaret Chan about tobacco product regulation.

That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening.

If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics do drop us a line. Our email address is

For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.

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