If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes we would save 5 million deaths in people who are alive today. It’s a massive potential public health prize.
That’s what Professor John Britton, Chair of the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians, claimed (source: BBC).
But an amendment to a European legislation on tobacco put forward by Labour MP Linda McAven could scupper that, if the interpretation by Clive Bates, former head of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), UK is correct.
The EU may be backing down on parts of legislation currently passing through parliament, and written by an official since forced to resign for allegedly soliciting bribes from a Swedish oral tobacco company, that would put a 0.6% limit on the nicotine allowed in e-cigarettes.
But an amendment submitted by Linda McAven could be even worse.
Here’s what Clive told me:
… rapporteur Linda McAvan has proposed banning all flavours in e-cigs in her amendment report. This would amount to a ban on e-cigs as they all have a flavour of some sort as I understand it – PG + nicotine alone don’t make for much of an experience. But the main reason to be concerned is that flavours are integral to the attractiveness of the product to smokers – to persuade them to switch in the first place and also to remain with the products. So flavours are much more important to e-cigs than they are to cigs.
Essentially no-one would use e-cigarettes if they had no flavour.
1. Deaths from Smoking Diseases
If the amendment went ahead as planned, and users could not use electronic cigarettes, millions could end up with no alternative but cigarettes.
In the UK, it might not mean five million deaths, as some smokers will probably never switch to e-cigarettes, and according to surveys run by us and CASAA around a third of e-cigarette users believe would not return to cigarettes.
In Europe as a whole, thought, it would likely cause many more than five million early deaths IF it means smokers do not switch and users return to cigarettes.
2. Black Market Growth, Home Based Labs and Unregulated Nicotine
Tens of thousands will choose not to go back to cigarettes, and choose the black market instead – or produce their own ejuice.
As Chris Price from ECCA once said, it will ironically be one of the first times people buy the healthy alternative on the black market!
So we could see:
1. An increase in people brewing and mixing their own liquid at home. Some people will know what they are doing, but inevitably there will be those who don’t, and there may be deaths as a result.
2. The emergence of a black market in nicotine eliquid. This won’t be tested by UK government approved laboratories, probably won’t be made from pharmaceutical grade nicotine and will probably come without the childproof packaging adopted by all responsible retailers.
Bad News for Snus Users Too
According to Clive, the ban on flavours would also affect Snus (a reduced harm alternative to smoking).
Ironically, not only would flavour enhancers be banned, manufacturers would have to return to a more dangerous tobacco curing process.
Clive tells me that Snus manufacturers moved from flue cured tobacco to air cured tobacco in order to reduce the nitrosamine count.
Air cured tobacco requires tobacco flavours to be added back in. So without this, Snus manufacturers would be forced to move back to the more dangerous flue cured tobacco.
MEPs like Linda McAven are worried that e-cigarettes and flavours could act as a gateway to smoking.
While that’s understandable, a huge survey by Action on Smoking and Health shows this is not a concern – and the amendment could unwittingly lead to millions of early deaths. So let’s hope we can engage Linda and persuade her to take a more liberal approach!
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