U.N. health agency urges crackdown on e-cigarettes

Governments should have tougher rules for electronic cigarettes, banning their use indoors and putting them off limits for minors until more evidence can be gathered about their risks, the U.N. health agency said on Tuesday.

In a bid to set public policy, the World Health Organization said the popular nicotine-vapour products, particularly the fruit, candy and alcohol-drink flavours, could serve as gateway addictions for children and adolescents.

It recommended governments forbid or keep to a minimum any advertising, promotion or sponsorship in a market that has mushroomed to $3 billion last year and now includes 466 different brands.

In a report, the Geneva-based agency found that the boom in e-cigarettes presents a public health dilemma.

Regulation “is a necessary precondition for establishing a scientific basis on which to judge the effects of their use, and for ensuring that adequate research is conducted and the public health is protected and people made aware of the potential risks and benefits,” the report said.

The report, requested in 2012 by the 179-nation WHO treaty for controlling tobacco, is to be discussed at a conference in Moscow in October. If the recommendations are adopted, the next step would be for nations to strengthen their laws and policies to meet the treaty obligations.

Little is known about the health effects of e-cigarettes, which have been sold in the U.S. since 2007, and contain less toxic substances than traditional cigarettes do. — AP

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