Could the Linda McAvan e-cigarette amendment lead to five million British deaths?

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.

Deadly Legislation

Skull and Crossbones

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

Graph showing 62% of vapers would return to cigarettes.
Results of a 2010 survey we carried out asking if e-cigarette users would return to cigarette if e-cigarettes were banned.

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

Graph showing 85% of users would buy e-cigarettes on the black market.
A large majority of users also indicated they would be willing to buy e-cigarettes on the black market if they could not obtain them legally.

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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7 thoughts on “Could the Linda McAvan e-cigarette amendment lead to five million British deaths?”

  1. I wonder who supports ASH and perhaps wonder if its the same people making vast fortunes out of gum and patches who keep them going, perhaps a bit of digging about would yield this as a group with a hidden agenda and a propagandic organisation to support big pharma’s vast profits.

    And remember these corporations have a no quibble pricing contract with the NHS who hands the gum and patches out like sweets, it would be interesting to know how much these patches and gum are costing the taxpayer and watch ASH’s support wither when faced with cheap option e-cigs or through the nose option patches and gum.

    1. I think ASH UK receives a lot of funding from the government, and also from the BHF and Cancer Research UK. (That always annoys me, because in the days when I used to donate to those charities I assumed from their name my money was being spent on research, not lobbying to reduce access to reduced harm alternatives). I know ASH US receives grants from pharmaceutical companies, not sure about ASH UK – Chris Price from ECCA probably knows.

      ASH UK’s policy that e-cigarettes could cost the government a fortune, if the government has to fork out for it – imagines several million smokers getting their e-cigarette supplies on prescription from the NHS.

      1. But its also a short sighted policy, not everyone can use the patches myself included as it makes me exceptionally nauseous within quite a short time and I even had an allergic reaction to one brand and my right arm ended up blistering around the patch attachment 🙁

        I think the gov has caught itself out as well, if they seek to tax electronic cigarettes, that would pull the patches into the same classification so it doesn’t dare leaving it the only other option of demonising e-cigs and supporting a ban.

        I like my e-cig, currently running orange tic tac flavour and is so much better than normal smokes and I’ll be damned if them in Europe or Whitehall try and force me back to them tarry stinky sticks Grrr

  2. Pingback: Kolejny poroniony pomysł unijnych legislatorów | Stary Chemik bloguje

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