ECD: What damage has been caused by the Snus ban?
David Sweanor: I think the key thing is that we have lost a great chance to effectively show ‘proof of concept’ for the provision of less toxic alternatives to cigarettes. As soon as there is recognition that consumers can access nicotine without repetitious inhalation of tobacco smoke, and that some portion of current smokers find this to be an acceptable (even preferable) alternative to smoking, it causes a paradigm shift. If we get to the point of no longer seeing cigarettes as a ‘nicotine maintenance monopoly’ we could change the face of public health.
“…the ban on products such as snus causes significant ethical and human rights problems.”
In addition the ban on products such as snus causes significant ethical and human rights problems. The idea of simply denying access to such a product to millions of smokers – people who are thus left using a massively more hazardous product – should be a great cause of concern. Misleading statements about the risks of products such as snus, especially those from major health organizations and government health departments, also run the risk of eroding consumer trust in public health authorities – a problem that ultimately impacts far more than issues of nicotine.
ECD: Do you see any parallels between Snus and the Electronic Cigarette, and the opposition against both of them?
David: Some part of the opposition to nicotine products comes from the same moral absolutism that we see in other abstinence-only efforts on issues concerning such things as alcohol and sexual activity. Actually, on a very wide range of issues there is a tension between those on a moralist/absolutist quest (usually tied to ideas on the perfectibility of mankind) and those on a pragmatic public health mission. It would wrong to characterize those on a moral quest as being public health advocates, and this is true whether looking at abstinence-only campaigns on sex, on alcohol, on illicit drugs or on nicotine. Campaigns based on making better people rather than making people better are driven by moral concerns rather than public health concerns.
ECD: You’ve stated that electronic cigarettes are not safe, but that they are a lot better than cigarettes. Just how unsafe are they?
“Everything has risks, so simply pointing out that something is ‘not safe’ shows a person to be either ignorant or disingenuous…”
ECD: You are a supporter of the electronic cigarette? Can you tell us why?
Ideally we need a nicotine regulatory authority that can facilitate efforts to get alternative products to smokers, accurately inform them of relative risks and move them as far as possible down the continuum of risk.
“Nicotine use should not come with a death sentence.”
ECD: Opponents of the electronic cigarette have said that it could stop smokers from giving up, that is untested and untried and that claims that the electronic cigarette are healthier than normal cigarettes are unproven. How would you respond to these allegations?
David: There is no innovation that I am aware of that did not cause detractors to list various potential negative consequences were the product to be made available – even safety bicycles in the 1890s! But when the status quo is one that will, according to the WHO, result in a billion deaths this century surely we need more than a fear ‘something bad might possibly happen’ to reject an alternative to that status quo.
If there is anyone who believes cigarettes are no more hazardous than e-cigarettes I’d recommend a remedial course in basic sciences. For anti-nicotine
“If there is anyone who believes cigarettes are no more hazardous than e-cigarettes I’d recommend a remedial course in basic sciences.”
ECD: One criticism that has been levelled at the electronic cigarette is that we don’t know the effect of heating up a nicotine vapour and inhaling it into the lungs. Is this a valid criticism?
David: We certainly know that inhaling a heated nicotine vapour into the lungs is one heck of a lot less hazardous than inhaling the same vapour along with the thousands of chemicals and dozens of known carcinogens that are inhaled when that vapour is delivered by smoking a cigarette. An investigation to determine if the non-smoke vapour is, say, 1/100 or 1/1,000 the risk of cigarette smoking might be a good thing. But if someone thinks cigarettes should not be challenged in the marketplace until we have such results I think they need to try thinking a little more deeply. They should also question whether they have undergone a Nietzsche-like transformation that is causing them to be sounding like a 1970s cigarette company executive.
ECD: How do you feel about the public health campaigners, via their campaign to ban electronic cigarettes, attempting to limit the choice of addicted smokers unable or unwilling to quit smoking to cigarettes and cigarettes alone?
David: I don’t think public health campaigners do this. I think some people on a moralistic abstinence-only agenda take this position, just as some take the position that consumers of alcohol should have no alternative to products like Jamaican Jake or that no one should have access to birth control, or that heroin addicts should not be given clean needles. But those people are not public health campaigners.
“They fear that unregulated products could proliferate and create a huge ‘snake oil’ business.”
ECD: The issue of electronic cigarettes is up in the air at the moment. How do you see the future – will it follow Snus into oblivion or will it become the smoking method of the future?
David: I think we are in the early stages of a revolution on recreational nicotine delivery. Just as with the telecommunications revolution it is likely impossible at an early stage to know how it will change. But it is a safe bet that consumer interests and entrepreneurship will combine to cause fundamental change, as we are already seeing with the rapid growth of non-combustion tobacco products in places such as Norway and the United States and the much greater use of medicinal nicotine products for purposes other than near-immediate nicotine cessation. The winning products in this market transformation will likely be of a wide variety, given differing consumer preferences and the nature of dynamic markets.
I personally think that some of the most successful products will likely help consumers wean themselves off nicotine over time. But hundreds of millions of smoking-caused deaths will be averted by greater consumer choice and a proliferation of products, untold billions of dollars will be made by the owners of the successful products, and innumerable jobs will be created as this market transforms. Seldom is there an offer to become a billionaire while saving millions of lives. I think there will be takers.
Please note that comments of the interviewee do not necessarily represent the views of ECigaretteDirect.
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