Michael Kitt at ecigarettedirect.co.uk has received a letter from a Trading Standards Officer who has (apparently) been told by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) that they will be opting for what they always said was their preferred option and banning all nicotine products. There are are—of course—two major exceptions: the most hazardous nicotine products (smoked tobacco) will continue to be on sale, as will the least effective smoking cessation aids (pharmaceutical nicotine).
From the letter:
I have been in discussions with other Trading Standards authorities and have found out that the consultation is almost complete. The outcome will be that as of a date (yet to be announced) there will be a 21 days period and then these products will be outright banned in the UK, unless the traders apply for certification as a medical device from MHRA. This process could be complicated and costly so it is expected that many traders may cease trading.
What this means for vapers like Leg-Iron is that it's back to the cigarettes. The least harmful nicotine delivery device is to be withdrawn in favour of the most harmful. And in the boardrooms of Pfizer and Philip Morris there was much rejoicing.
How has it comes to this? As I said at the International Harm Reduction Conference back in April, I think it comes down to a combination of fanaticism and pharmaceutical pressure.
Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights - in a press release titled Electronic Cigarettes are NOT a safe alternative! - criticised the e-cigarette specifically because it mimics the act of smoking and because it contains nicotine.
Only pharmaceutical nicotine products escape criticism, partly because they are marketed as a medicinal cure for a ‘disease’ and partly because they administer nicotine without providing pleasure.
This has led to a somewhat inconsistent view of nicotine, described as being perfectly safe in pharmaceutical products but highly toxic in e-cigarettes, snus and other tobacco products. The EPA describes it as “acutely toxic (Category 1) by all routes of exposure (oral, dermal and inhalation)” while the MHRA says thats “nicotine, while addictive, is actually a very safe drug.”
Five years ago, when I began researching Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, I was wary of making too many claims about the influence of the pharmaceutical lobby. Although Big Pharma (or, more accurately, the pharmaceutical companies who happen to make nicotine products) have funded the anti-smoking movement lavishly over the last twenty years, there were anti-smoking fanatics long before they got involved and, for the most part, the movement's prohibitionist agenda has remained unchanged. While it is important to be aware of the conflicts of interest, especially when nicotine replacement products (NRT) are being touted, people like John Banzhaf and Stanton Glantz were going to be saying the same things with or without Big Pharma's cash.
But I have been saying for some time that the anti-smoking movement's attitude towards the e-cigarette would be the litmus test of pharmaceutical influence. There is no doubt that Big Pharma is seriously worried about the e-cigarette's impact on their sales, as an industry report suggested:
E-Cigarettes Will Revolutionise the Face of Tobacco Smoking and Could Pose a Threat to the Smoking Cessation Market
In February, the Department of Health (of which MHRA is a part) went further than ever before in pushing pharmaceutical nicotine, not just as a smoking cessation aid but as a long-term substitute. Needless to say, this change of emphasis suits the makers of nicotine products just fine.
In the e-cigarette, we have a product that is—at the very least—99% less harmful than cigarettes. In all probability, it is 100% safe (because, as MHRA say, nicotine is "a very safe drug"). Furthermore, there is considerable anecdotal evidence that e-cigarettes are more effective as smoking cessation aids than anything sold by Big Pharma. It is certainly reasonable to say that they require some regulation, if only to prevent contaminated or substandard products going on sale, but to ban them entirely is sheer madness. As Paul Bergen says over at Smokles:
There is good reason for some sort of standards for any widely used product. This is just a very bad way of going about it.
If cigarettes did not exist and e-cigarettes were some unique nicotine delivery device then this approach would not be entirely out of sorts. It would still be unusually demanding in its short time frame for compliance but the worry would center more around commercial concerns than concerns of health.
However we have been repeatedly reminded by national authorities that too many people are dying from smoking, implying that these same authorities think this is not a good thing, and also implying that they would support actions that would bring down those mortality figures.
Quite simply, the ban on e-cigarettes—like the ban on snus—is going to result in more people dying of smoking-related diseases. It is a victory only for those with a bone-headed prohibitionist mindset, it is a victory for the precautionary principle and it is a victory for big business. No organisation that supports the ban can seriously claim to be working in the interests of public health.
If and when this ban is confirmed, will we hear objections from ASH? After all, ASH claims to support harm reduction. There must be some amongst their number who joined the movement because they wanted to help people quit smoking and save lives. Will they speak out or will they keep quiet in deference to the companies who pay for their conferences?
H/T: Kate at Vapersnet.org