The move by the WHO would push 178 countries to impose tough restrictions on the products, which some scientists say provide a less harmful alternative for smokers.
A group of 53 top scientists warned the World Health Organization Thrusday not to classify e-cigarettes in the same category as other tobacco products, a move that would lead to significant restrictions on the devices in most countries around the world.
The scientists say that electronic cigarettes are in fact “part of the solution” in the fight against smoking because they can provide a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, Reuters reports.
“Even though most of us would prefer people to quit smoking and using nicotine altogether, experience suggests that many smokers cannot or choose not to give up nicotine and will continue to smoke if there is no safer alternative available that is acceptable to them,” the scientists wrote.
The devices have exploded in use and spawned a $3 billion industry worldwide, but the scientific research on their safety and their potential to be a “gateway” to other tobacco products is still developing.
If the WHO were to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products—a move they are rumored to be considering, according to Reuters—178 signatories to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control would be expected to impose strict measures on them to restrict demand, like raising taxes and banning some forms of advertising. The U.S. is one of the few non-signatories to the FCTC, though the Food and Drug Administration has moved to regulate e-cigs.
The FCTC is scheduled to meet in October in Moscow, where it will consider any proposed regulations.