Nudging in the Service of Safer Nicotine Use


What news!

When it comes to matters of nicotine, its rare that a government report not only exhibits common sense but gets as far as being reported in two major newspapers without some prohibitionary lunatics weaseling themselves into the mix. Though both the report in the MailOnline and the The Guardian  mention that controversy might arise, neither invite any of the usual idiots to muddy the waters.

This is good news plain and simple and let us all hope it gets past just being a recommendation.

In short, the paper suggests that not only should safer methods of nicotine be made or kept available but that they be actively promoted and priced below cigarettes. I have just two small objections in regards to the paper (as reported).

The first is the emphasis on developing additional regulatory frameworks which, though not inherently evil, have the potential to delay the introduction of urgently needed safer alternatives.

The second is the statement that “If alternative and safe nicotine products can be developed which are attractive enough to substitute people away from traditional cigarettes, they could have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives a year.” No argument with the sentiment but though further product development should be encouraged we already have very effective smoking substitutes in the form of e-cigarettes and snus. Though the EU has backed off from what a little while ago seemed like a reconsideration of allowing snus into the market perhaps this might reopen that possibility.

Already anticipating some criticism of the “nudge unit’s” recommendations on the basis of it being more nanny statism (and we have certainly seen enough of this already with tobacco and now with alcohol), unit head Halpern likens the situation to being like that of seatbelts which were initially seen as intrusive but soon after were accepted as quite reasonable. I would argue that though the analogy fits in regards to the evolution of acceptance, seatbelts were made mandatory and here no one is being forced to change their behaviour. You can keep smoking if you wish to. All that is happening is that if you desire it, you have access to safer alternatives and that there is no financial barrier to switching.

If all goes well years from now we could be discussing the British miracle (just as we have had “the Swedish miracle” already) and with any luck it could leverage Europe and the rest of the world into moving beyond the antediluvian machinations of the FCTC into a clear eyed health and evidence based response to the very human desire for nicotine.

At the very least, if the MHRA comes through on this, it would show the FDA how a concern for population health can actually inform policy. It would further show the absurdity and tragedy of how the FDA, purported public servant, uses death figures to propel anti-harm reduction policy. Halpern concludes correctly that:

There’s no doubt it can save many lives and hundreds of millions of pounds.

Naturally there are still the vested interests of the pharmaceutical industry to deal with, the anti-nicotine brigade (not as entrenched as in America but still something to contend with), and the certain protest which will arise from WHO and the FCTC. But for the moment let us imagine a world where common sense is afforded a greater importance than political posturing, where concerns for health assume more importance than worries about addiction and where nicotine use is a choice and not much of a risk.

Also see: UK Policy Committee Slams MHRA Over E-Cigarette Consultation and Are electronic cigarettes safe? The Shocking Truth

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