Advocacy Groups Accuse WHO of Human Rights Violation in Denying Access to Smoke-Free Alternatives
Public health advocacy groups, including ENDS Cigarette Smoke Thailand (ECST), have raised concerns about the denial of adult consumers’ access to smoke-free products, labeling it a violation of human rights. In a letter addressed to the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, the groups argue that withholding access to less harmful alternatives infringes on individuals’ right to choose.
Asa Saligupta, the director of ECST and a signatory in the open letter dated October 16, 2023, contends that the World Health Organization (WHO) is neglecting the rights of adult smokers by preventing them from opting for less harmful products, a move that goes against their human rights.
The WHO, established in 1948, is a UN agency responsible for promoting global health and safety.
Saligupta challenges the WHO’s stance, questioning how history will judge the organization in the next 20 to 30 years. He accuses the WHO of causing millions of deaths by ignoring scientific evidence supporting tobacco harm reduction.
The statement from ECST and other signatories comes ahead of the Tenth Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP10) for the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, scheduled for November 20 to 25, 2023.
Despite success stories in countries like Sweden, Japan, and the United Kingdom, where innovative smoke-free products contributed to a decline in smoking prevalence, the WHO FCTC has reportedly overlooked their positive impact.
Saligupta emphasizes that all citizens have the “Right to Health,” as acknowledged in UN treaties, WHO documents, and the WHO FCTC. He advocates for providing adult smokers with assistance and information to quit smoking, including access to safer alternatives, rather than stigmatizing or alienating them.
Citing studies that indicate harm reduction through safer alternatives reduces smoking-related harm, the open letter urges governments to support harm reduction strategies, aligning with the Right to Health.
Saligupta calls for a review of the WHO’s position on safer alternative nicotine products based on the latest scientific evidence, emphasizing the failure of past moralistic or prohibitionist policies.
The signatories stress that harm reduction strategies are supported by scientific evidence, and governments should respect adult smokers’ rights to explore innovative products for a healthier life.