More than 50 researchers say plans to classify e-cigarettes as a tobacco product should be reconsidered.
Electronic cigarette use could save millions of lives according to more than 50 researchers and health specialists.
Leading scientists from over 15 countries wrote to Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), urging her to reconsider intentions to classify e-cigarettes among tobacco products.
The letter warns WHO of the risk of missing a great opportunity to dramatically reduce smoking and the health concerns that come with it.
Weronika Suszynska, the co-ordinator of Hammersmith and Fulham’s Kick It Stop Smoking service, believes that there is potential in the use of e-cigarettes to help people give up the habit.
She said: “I believe that we could have licensed product in the future, that only uses nicotene.
“It could become a medication in the same way nicotine patches and gum are used to help people quit.”
Any nicotene-containing product that claims to treat a nicotine addiction is considered to be a medicinal product and is subject to regulations by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
Ms Suszynska said that more research into the nature and long lasting effects of e-cigarettes use is needed in order to regulate the manufacturing of a more consistent and safe product across the companies that produce them.
She also noted a possible risk of using vapourisers around children.
“Kids could take up vaping because they think it is cool and because it can be done anywhere,” she said.
“There is a danger of children looking up to adults who use e-cigarettes and then go on to smoke after that.”
However research overseen by Professor Robert West of UCL (one of the scientists who is included in the 53 that signed the letter to the WHO) shows no evidence to support the view that the use of electronic cigarettes renormalise smoking but rather that it may help to reduce smoking as more people are using them as an aid to quitting.
In fact, usage of vaporisers among British adults has tripled over the past two years from an estimated 700,000 users in 2012 to 2.1 million in 2014.
A YouGov survey commissioned by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) revealed the main reasons given by ex-smokers for using vapourisers was to help them stop smoking entirely or to keep them off tobacco.
Ex-smokers make up a third of electronic cigarette users, the other two thirds are largely made up of current smokers who told the survey that vaping helps them reduce the tobacco they smoke, helps them save money and for some it helps them to stop smoking entirely.
John Diver, a photographer from Croydon, said he quit smoking overnight after 34 years of smoking by deciding to give vaping a try on a whim during a trip to the supermarket.
He said: “E-cigarettes have changed my life, my health and my politics.
“They are better for me and for people around me, although they are not risk free.”
Mr Diver said he had no intention of quitting smoking as he was happy to accept the risk but after he realised that his need for nicotine could be met with a cheaper and less toxic alternative, he gave up tobacco consumption completely.
“The overwhelming evidence is that they are at least 95% safer than smoking, which, as a committed smoker, is easily safe enough for me,” he said.
“If I am no longer able to access e-cigarettes, I’ll go back to smoking in a heartbeat.”
Doug Phillips, from Sutton, is another person who gave up smoking when he switched to using e-cigarettes.
“I think that they may have just saved my life,” he said.
Despite suffering two heart attacks and being advised by both his doctors and his wife to quit smoking, he continued.
However after being inspired by a post on an online forum from a person who said they quit smoking by using e-cigarettes, he decided to give the product a try.
Mr Phillips said: “The e-cig worked, and my wife liked the fact that there was no smell.”
Both men wholeheartedly agree with the plea to WHO from the 53 scientists to not treat low-nicotine products such as vaporisers as tobacco products. They believe it would be putting e-cigarettes as part of the problem rather than what they believe could be part of the solution.
Andrew Payne, director of leading e-cigarette brand Socialites who have a retail kiosk in Hammersmith and Fulham, said that their product is helping to prolong and save the lives of many.
“It is about time that e-cigarettes are recognised as an indispensable tool which people can use to quit smoking – there are no harmful side effects to the user of bystanders and they do not contain the 4,000 chemicals and 60 known carcinogens found in traditional tobacco,” he said.
“According to recent reports, they also have the highest level of success for those looking to quit the habit, and without them it is fair to say that many thousands more people would die from smoking related illnesses. For this reason they should be celebrated and certainly not further repressed.”
The debate in the wake of the wait for the WHO’s global guidelines regarding electronic cigarettes is timely as many consider how to tackle the problem of tobacco consumption today on World No Tobacco Day.
In South West London, Public Health England revealed that deaths estimated to be attributable to smoking are highest in Hammersmith and Fulham and Lambeth, with 342.2 and 339,3 deaths per 100,000 population aged 35 from 2010-2012.
Ms Suszynska said that it is important to combat the problem by supporting current smokers to quit and preventing young people from starting the habit.
“If you prevent young people from getting addicted in the first place then there will be less people with health issues in the future and less money spent on treatment,” she said.
The Kick It Stop Smoking Service provided by Thrive Tribe Ltd is commissioned by local authorities in five boroughs that include Hammersmith and Fulham, Richmond upon Thames, Kingston upon Thames and Kensington and Chelsea.
They provide support directly to residents who wish to quit smoking in a strategic programme that tackles the habit pharmacologically (through prescriptions) and behaviourally.
Ms Suszynska added: “Most people want to give up but they can’t do it by themselves.
World No Tobacco Day is a campaign that was created by the WHO and first celebrated in 1988 to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking.
It now takes place every 31 May to highlight the health risks associated with tobacco use and advocate for effective policies to combat the problems caused by smoking.
The main goal of its 2014 campaign is to have governments increase taxes on tobacco to reduce tobacco consumption.
If you would like to quit smoking, why not try visiting the following websites to find out how you can get the help and support you need:
For more information on e-cigarettes or vapourisers, see: http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_715.pdf
Photo courtesy of by lindsay-fox, with thanks.
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