At the beginning of May, the World Health Organisation issued a draft report on its approach to non-communicable diseases (NCDs), meaning illness arising out of making unhealthy choices rather than the traditional understanding of disease.
The report recognised the “lack of progress” towards tackling NCDs, spoke of fears that the WHO’s targets might not be met in this area, and invited responses to a consultation on the matter. The NNA submitted a response which addressed concerns raised by the WHO in their preamble.
“There are many proven interventions for the prevention and management of NCDs. However, for many reasons, implementation of these has been slow and progress disappointing."
“Thus, we have sought to imagine different ways of doing things and to formulate recommendations that are not overly technical but policy-friendly.”
Article 1(d) of the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control specifically mentions “a range of supply, demand and harm reduction strategies that aim to improve the health of a population by eliminating or reducing their consumption of tobacco products” as part of its remit. With this in mind, and with the WHO seeking “different ways of doing things”, the NNA – a registered UK charity – submitted a response to the consultation which you can read here.
Quoting the Royal College of Physicians, Public Health England, the European Commission and even the World Health Organisation itself, we set out the case for a more robust role for reduced risk products within global tobacco control legislative policies.
We believe our submission was a useful contribution to the debate and drew on proven successes in various jurisdictions to promote precisely the imaginative solutions that the WHO’s report implied it was seeking.
However, to our surprise, when the WHO published the responses it had received, ours was included in a section entitled “feedback received from entities with which WHO does not engage”, insinuating that we work for tobacco companies and likening us to the arms industry! From this we can only assume that the WHO is refusing to read our suggestions or, at least, plans to ignore them entirely.
We wrote to the WHO on 22nd May to complain about our inclusion in that section on their page and to request an explanation but have yet to receive a reply. The New Nicotine Alliance does not accept funding from the tobacco industry, nor do we work to further the interests of the tobacco industry and our website clearly states that “NNA welcomes donations from individuals and organisations to support our campaigning work. We are however unable to accept such donations from manufacturers and distributors of nicotine products.”.
The NNA is a registered charitable organisation in the UK and we are therefore required to publish our annual accounts on the Charity Commission website. The WHO can clearly see our funding and should note that we are a group of mostly consumer volunteers working unpaid to raise awareness of tobacco harm reduction strategies from which many of us have benefitted ourselves.
Indeed, the WHO has often spoken about the need to engage with consumers like us. In its Jakarta Declaration, it spoke of how “participation is essential to sustain efforts. People have to be at the centre of health promotion action and decision-making processes for them to be effective”, so the fact that it now chooses to eradicate consumers from its decision-making is disappointing to say the least.
It is shameful that the WHO has decided to ignore the voice of consumers such as we are, and we will be raising this matter with the public health community in the UK and with legislators who are responsible for approving funding to the WHO. We feel that this is a gross abuse of authority on the part of the WHO and that they should swiftly reconsider.
Our submission is relevant to the subject matter, addresses the areas of concern raised by the WHO and adheres to the criteria that the FCTC declares in its articles of association. There is no valid reason why it should not be considered alongside those submitted by other NGOs and interested stakeholders.
To do otherwise betrays the lofty goals of the WHO and strongly suggests that there is an ideological agenda at play. We believe that this area of policy is far too important to be hijacked by such petty politics, and that smokers should be afforded a plethora of less harmful products should they choose to quit or reduce their consumption of lit tobacco. Accordingly, we are sorely disappointed that an organisation such as the WHO seeks to frustrate those choices for reasons that they will not disclose.
The public for whom the WHO claims to wish to assist deserve better than closed minds on the subject of tobacco harm reduction. The WHO should be looking to expand an embrace of its own article, 1(d) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, and the strategies for health promotion outlined in its own Ottawa Charter, rather than distancing itself from these commitments.