On 8th October this year, MEP’s in Strasbourg voted against a motion that would have forced e-cigarettes to become licensed, medicinal products which may have resulted in their supply being limited to chemists and pharmacies.
Walk along any high street or market stall now and chances you will be hard pushed not to find at least one merchant selling e-cigarettes and their associated refills. For those of you who are unaware of what an e-cigarette is, quite simply, they are small, battery powered devices that often but not always look like real cigarettes. Unlike ordinary cigarettes, they emit no dangerous chemicals and typically release only harmless water vapour. The smoker inhales vaporised nicotine which replaces the need for to smoke tobacco cigarettes. For this reason, they have become increasingly popular amongst smokers who are wishing to quit.
However, the continued availability of e-cigarettes in their current form is under serious threat of over-arching regulations from both home and abroad. UK parliamentarians have made no secret as to their desire to strongly legislate e-cigs by banning their sale from non-licensed premises from 2016 when compulsory licenses are brought in.
This creates a number of problems. Firstly, it will mean that from 2016, e-cigarettes may only be found in licensed chemists and pharmacies. This will make e-cigs much more difficult to obtain than harmful tobacco filled cigarettes which you can buy from any supermarket or corner shop. When you consider that many smokers switch to e-cigs due to the resemblance of their former habit, making the harmless variety harder to obtain is undoubtedly counterproductive in helping people quit tobacco for good.
Secondly, the growth of e-cigs has been largely a result of small businesses and traders. The requirement to licence e-cigs will drive many if not all of these traders out of business entirely. One example is the recent licensing attempt by Peterborough firm Ecigwizard who approached the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in order to ascertain the cost to have their entire product range covered. Shockingly, the MHRA have made it known that the total cost of licensing the entire product line of Ecigwizard would be to the tune of £1.8BILLION. No small or medium business could afford such an amount. Large tobacco firms such as British American and Imperial on the other hand, have already begun to muscle their way into the e-cig market, buying up small companies. If licensing becomes mandatory, tobacco firms would be well placed to meet the financial demands of the MHRA.
Also, now that e-cigarettes are common place with an estimated 700,000 users in the UK alone, any attempt at restricting their availability will no doubt open the doors to black market traders and drive existing sellers underground. E-cigs are not only a cleaner alternative to tobacco, but they are much cheaper. Legislation which could leave e-cigs in the hands of tobacco firms and chemists will push prices up leaving many with no option but to turn to the black market or abandon any hope of quitting. I would be incredibly disappointed if the number of smokers goes up because people find smoking e-cigs to be just as expensive as smoking tobacco.
Just last month the European Parliament showed a very rare sign of sanity by voting against a proposal that would have seen EU-wide regulations enforced, bringing the future of e-cigs into doubt. Sadly, at the same time, MEP’s voted to include e-cigs into existing directives that cover tobacco advertisement (Directives 2003/33/EC and 2010/13/EC) whilst also announcing a forthcoming ban on menthol cigarettes and increasing the size of mandatory warnings on packets. Surely, as e-cigs are clearly much healthier than their tobacco alternatives, it would be wise to allow their promotion, so long as they don’t contain the branding associated with tobacco companies, after all, other forms of nicotine replacement such as patches and chewing gum are freely advertised.
There have been many untruths about e-cigs, perhaps from groups who fear that pubs and cafes will once again be filled with patrons lighting up and possible their affect or influence on non-smokers and children. However, talk of e-cigs enticing children into smoking tobacco filled cigarettes couldn’t be further from the truth. A recent survey commissioned by the anti smoking group ASH found that the use of e-cigs by children is extremely rare and confined only to those who already smoke. The findings show that as little as 1% of children who have tried e-cigarettes have never smoked before and 0% was expected to try an e-cig in the future. Meanwhile, the study also confirms that 0% of e-cig users of adult age have smoked regular cigarettes previously with the overwhelming majority of users being current smokers trying to quit. The same study also shows that the primary reason for using e-cigs is to stop smoking entirely (34%), followed by the need to have an aid to keep the smoker off tobacco (28%).
I strongly believe that e-cigarettes are perhaps the best aid that smokers can use to quit smoking. A study published in the Lancet has found that whilst 5.8% smokers who used nicotine patches went on to quit after 6 months that figure rose to 7.3% amongst e-cig users. Perhaps the reason is because smokers trying to quit feel more at ease following the same ‘habit’ than they would by chewing nicotine gum or applying unsightly patches on their arms.
Finally, I must point out that unlike other drugs, including alcohol, there has yet to be a single death as a result of e-cigarette use and if, as studies show, the only people using e-cigs are smokers themselves, they are in fact saving untold numbers of lives and improving the health and wellbeing of smokers wanting to quit. It would be a real shame if the 700,000 or so e-cigarette smokers in the UK went back to smoking tobacco due to either Westminster or Brussels legislating on their availability.