I’ve been watching this story unfold all day. I’ve been watching social media and reactions to the various places where it’s being reported here in the UK. The basic story is that 53 scientists have written to the W.H.O asking them to reconsider its intention to classify e-cigarettes (and other forms of reduced harm smokeless tobacco product) in the same way as tobacco cigarettes, because they risk missing a huge chance to reduce the harm done by tobacco smoking. You can see the full text of the letter here (PDF).
The first site I saw pick up the story was the BBC. When I first looked at that article last night it was mainly positive, with a howlingly negative last statement. It looked then as if the last word on the article was basically telling smokers not to switch. Now they have Martin McKee saying this;
“The health community is completely divided on the subject of whether electronic cigarettes are safer than real cigarettes.”
It’s really not. The consensus of scientific opinion is that smokeless tobacco is definitely safer than real cigarettes. The only argument is, “How much safer?”
“While the signatories to this letter are clearly supportive, the World Health Organization, correctly, bases its decisions on the best available evidence.”
I hope you’re right. By all anyone ever held sacred I pray you’re right in this one point. Please write down those words on a stick of bubblegum and have it ready, because I really hope you’ll have to chew on them for a very, very, long time.
it would be “premature” to advocate the use of e-cigarettes until their safety had been established.
You know I’m going to give you that Carl Phillips quote here again, don’t you. Well you’re right. I am. Because it’s the idea of harm reduction in a nutshell and Martin McKee just doesn’t get it. If you switch from smoking lit tobacco to a safer alternative form of nicotine and continue your nicotine use for life, your accumulated health benefit is better than smoking for one further month and then stopping nicotine use entirely. The average smoker takes ten years to give up. I’m now twenty two years past my first quit attempt. Please do the maths. In my opinion Martin McKee’s advice is very harmful.
the present analysis shows that anti-THR activism is deadly. Hiding THR from smokers, waiting for them to decide to quit entirely or waiting for a new anti-smoking magic bullet, causes the deaths of more smokers every month than a lifetime using low-risk nicotine products ever could.
The last word in the BBC article is given to Richard Evans, vice-chairman of the Welsh Pharmacy Board who believes e cigarettes should be regulated in the same way as traditional cigarettes. He said:
“At the moment the products that are on the market – we don’t know what standard they are. They can vary from product to product – there is no uniformity at all.”
So what? There’s no uniformity in coffee or tea either. I didn’t know that I was getting a uniform dose of the thousands of chemicals in a cigarette when I smoked. This is the overreaction to nicotine again, and is actually completely irrelevant. People use smokeless tobacco and e cigarettes in the same way as we smoked. We self titrate the levels. Want to see what your medically regulated standardised uniform device would do to my ability to stop smoking? Look here.
Dr Vivienne Nathanson, from the BMA and Prof John Ashton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, both cried in unison: “please think of the children.” They linked to this study done by Stanton Glantz which has been discredited as utterly inaccurate even by the ACS – please read this article: Stanton Glantz is such a liar that even the ACS balks: his latest ecig gateway “study”. For a brilliant analysis of the flaws in that study please also see Clive Bates on the subject. I really can’t believe that the BBC would allow links to such junk science in a serious article. There is no evidence to support a gateway. If there is one it leads OUT of tobacco smoking. There is no evidence that vaping renormalises smoking. If it does anything it normalises NOT smoking.
The Daily Mail starts off reasonably well, and then we get:
critics say that not enough is known about the long-term effects of the devices
the unregulated status of e-cigarettes is problematic. ‘The concern is that the safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes is still unknown. Until we have more substantial research we would encourage all smokers who wish to quit smoking to use ‘stop smoking’ services and approved nicotine replacement products.’
Yes, we know we need long term studies, but yet again, ad infinitum, sic ad nauseum, how long do we wait and how many smokers choose not to switch because of these opinions in the meantime? They are not “UNREGULATED” they are currently covered by more than SEVENTEEN regulations. The problem is that the proposed regulations, both here and in the States, will not simply produce safer products; it will kill the ecig. Stone cold dead.
The letter which those scientists wrote is a point by point rebuttal of the arguments that have turned up in opposition to it. It also puts a beautifully argued and rational opposition to all of the other arguments I’ve seen against the adoption of low risk alternatives to smoking. Clive Bates published a reader’s guide to the letter which I highly recommend to anyone confused by any part of what’s been said. Please do compare the quality of the research done by any of the signatories of that letter, with the research quoted in rebuttal. I know beyond a doubt which opinions I trust more.
My last word here goes to one of the signatories of the letter, Professor Robert West, one of my personal heroes. He said this: “If we fail to take this opportunity that electronic cigarettes are potentially providing, then we really are condemning people to death who would have otherwise lived. That’s what’s at stake.”