About Paul Bergen
Paul L. Bergen has been involved in tobacco harm reduction since 2005. He was involved with the Tobacco Harm Reduction Project, and has more recently set up the site Canadian Vapers News & Opinions with his fellow authors, including Carl V. Phillips.
He is involved in the Electronic Cigarette Trade Association of Canada (ECTA) and has frequently presented at the International Harm Reduction Association conferences. His main focus has been on correcting misinformation regarding nicotine and health.
Partnering with ECigaretteDirect’s director James Dunworth, they created the e-book ‘Electronic Cigarettes: What the Experts Say’ which is available on Amazon, or free if you sign up to our newsletter.
ECD: How harmful is the e-cigarette, and how true are reports such as Put Down that E-Cigarette which claim that e-cigarettes could be poisonous?
Paul: That particular posting is somewhat misleading. The main concern WHO had regarding electronic cigarettes were that some distributors were inappropriately saying that WHO had endorsed them. Apart from that, like much of the other opposition to e-cigarettes, WHO are also being inappropriate in concentrating not on whether these devices will actually get people to quit nicotine rather than whether they will reduce the harm associated with tobacco use.
The author of the posting, Summer Johnson, who specialises in bioethics, might be more cautious in her academic arena but she has previously posted that “Public health ethics says that almost any measures are okay to get smokers addicted to nicotine to kick the habit to stop inflicting harm on themselves and others.” (https://blog.bioethics.net/2008/09/say-goodbye-to-tobacco/). It is bad enough when activists say any measures against smokers are reasonable (in some places you can bar them from fostering children, holding jobs, or even their spouses being denied jobs) but it is much worse when professed ethicists say it.
“Though there is not perfect certainty on how safe electronic cigarettes are, we are pretty certain that they are a lot safer than cigarettes are.”
ECD: How does the electronic cigarette compare to real cigarettes?
Paul: Though not many good studies of electronic cigarettes exist yet, but of those that do, no negative health effects have been found. The devices are quite simple so there is not much to worry about. They are for the most part, traditional cigarettes with all the known dangers removed. And this is why we are quite certain they are much safer than smoking. The major danger in smoking has always been tobacco smoke, and that has now been removed.
What is left is a tube of some sort you put in your mouth (no danger unless you poke it in your eye or swallow it), nicotine (which is no more dangerous than caffeine unless you are a fetus), a flavouring component, and propylene glycol (which though toxic if you drink a lot of it is quite harmless if you inhale it). The possible harm is if something slips in with the nicotine and flavouring compounds.
We also now have a few years of population use and though you really need decades of use to be certain, at least we know nothing major and short term has appeared. The one reasonable concern is that there is little regulation on the manufacture of these devices and some might inadvertently harbour some potentially toxic contaminant (though it would have to be remarkably robust to approach the toxicity of cigarette smoke).
Paul: Personally I have seen it work, and not. And though I haven’t smoked tobacco in some time, I tried this and found it utterly satisfying to the point where I could not imagine real smoking any longer. And this was for a non-nicotine version. For some people, smoking is not about the nicotine but about the pleasures of the physical act of smoking and for those, this is a godsend.
What is promising about this is that it is so similar to smoking that people immediately imagine it as supplanting their other habit. Most other alternatives require some getting used to, and rather than optimism, many start thinking about how it doesn’t do certain things. Whether most people will switch over completely is beside the point. Saving just a
“I tried this and found it utterly satisfying to the point where I could not imagine real smoking any longer…”
I suspect that in time, people will investigate the quitting potential of ecigarettes but like all these studies, you need a few years to really know if it works. In the meanwhile, anytime someone is smoking an ecigarette they are not smoking something else which is a good thing.
If the usual quit smoking alternatives such as the gum and the patch were judged on how successful they were in long term quit rates, many people might argue that they should be taken off the market. There is a pressing need for better alternatives for smokers and to the distress of the anti-tobacco crowd the best and most effective alternatives in the market right now appears to be smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes. The former we have plenty of data that shows it is safer and that people can switch, and the latter less data but positive indications that it might end up as safe and maybe even more effective since it mimics smoking so well.
Paul: Some cynics say that the government worries about losing tobacco tax revenues if everyone switched over to this product. I might be naive but I do not think that is their motive (though since tobacco taxes have become prominent in many budgets it should be). At this time, I think it comes from two sources 1. simply that it is a product that confuses them because it does not fit neatly into a
“There is a pressing need for better alternatives… the best and most effective alternatives in the market right now appears to be smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes”
As it is, the government can place barriers on the product, but information suppression is bound to fail given the internet. News sources are covering this well, and for the most part accurately and positively, so short of shutting down the presses, and the net itself, the government can interdict the product at borders, not allow the sale in stores etc. but the information is still fairly free. (Not to say some haven’t tried; they do have the power to apply restrictions on commercial sites).
ECD: Can you give us any further examples of the sale of/information about e-cigarettes being suppressed?
Paul: As far as restricting the sales of e-cigarettes, right now the most famous example is Australia which has banned the sales on or off line of these products. A few countries like Finland allow the sales on line or for personal use but not for sale in stores. Others only allow the sale of e-cigarettes as medical devices, and yet others allow the sale but do not allow any advertising of the product. What we might see is a “Swedish” example emerging, that is a country that does not stand in the way of this alternative, and where the alternative becomes as available and more popular that cigarettes, and then over time a decrease in all the smoking related conditions. If it is anything like the smokeless tobacco case, that won’t ensure any spread of the solution but at least it would furnish good evidence that this could work.
ECD: What misinformation has been spread about e-cigarettes?
“…some people … are vehemently anti-smoking and will fight any product that makes smoking more acceptable.”
ECD: What damage is being caused by the suppression of e-cigarettes?
Paul: I don’t think the “suppression of information” is that effective or influential but rather the lack of the product being commonly available. We need these products to be sold where other tobacco products are sold and to be seen on the streets and in the bars and on planes and anywhere smokers might notice them, and then consider switching.
Please note that comments of the interviewee do not necessarily represent the views of ECigaretteDirect.
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