Time for a sensible discussion on e-cigarettes

Hundreds of thousands of people have managed to quit smoking cigarettes and moved on to e-cigarettes instead.  It’s pretty obvious that, although e-cigarettes aren’t exactly as healthy as quitting smoking altogether, in comparison they will drastically reduce the risk of the various health issues associated with smoking.

I wouldn’t object to a certain regulation of the e-cigarette industry; in much the same way as food and drink are regulated it’s important that consumers know what is in them and in what quantities so that they are able to make an informed choice.  It’s also a good idea to ensure that whilst they exist, they’re produced in such a way as to minimise any health risks.  On the other hand, the European Union Directives expect e-cigarettes to be classified as medicines and over-regulated accordingly, putting a lot of smaller firms out of business.  Phrases about sledgehammers and nuts spring to mind.

Research published in the Addiction journal shows that “people attempting to quit smoking without professional help are approximately 60% more likely to report succeeding if they use e-cigarettes than if they use willpower alone or over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or gum”.  We should be supportive of the e-cigarette industry not opposed to it.

In the Parliament’s Budgetary Control Committee there was a fascinating discussion about counterfeit cigarettes and smuggling.  There’s a huge problem with counterfeit cigarettes being smuggled into the UK and elsewhere; the EU’s proposed plain packaging would be a counterfeiter’s dream.  I’d never realised before that Committee that there’s also an issue with so-called ‘ant smuggling’, where people cross land borders into Europe a number of times a day bringing a relatively small (say, a thousand cigarettes at a time) number of cigarettes across.  It’s not an issue for the UK, but it is for much of the rest of Europe – another example of why a one-size-fits all approach doesn’t always work.

I’ve never smoked a cigarette in my life.  I think I’d probably find I enjoy it, and I certainly don’t want to get addicted to cigarettes.  So I’ve done the responsible thing and never smoked.  Neither have I ever smoked an e-cigarette, so I have no axe to grind here.

I grew up in smoke-filled rooms (not the kind in which political parties made deals – I played chess to a decent standard, making the England Under-21 squad, and was regularly competing against adults in club matches from about the age of 7).  It was the League which acted first, long before the law, to ban smoking during matches.

The difference between then and now could hardly be starker.  No-one should be suggesting that we should go back to how things were in the 1980s and 1990s; for those who were in that environment on a daily basis I would find it difficult to believe that there wasn’t a serious danger attached to passive smoking.

Now, of course, Boris Johnson wants smoking banned in Hyde Park.  In such an open-air environment, where is the health risk to anyone other than the smoker?  And surely, if we drive those people to smoke indoors with poor ventilation, there will be a greater risk to their own health and that of their families.

 

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