E-cigarettes: sending the wrong smoke-signal

  • Europe
  • United States
  • Health care
  • Smoking and tobacco
  • Health and fitness

E cigarettes are not entirely risk free. Little research has yet been done about their long term health effects. Nicotine is, in implausibly large doses, a poison. Even in small ones it is addictive and the amount of the chemical dispensed by e cigarettes varies from one brand to another. But it is already clear that whatever health risks may emerge in studies of e cigarette use, they are vastly less lethal than traditional smokes.

Given the prospect of weaning the world s billion or so smokers onto something much less harmful, as well as protecting children and others from second hand smoke, there is a more sensible approach. Europe should tighten the existing rules on labelling and quality control that affect e cigarettes. America should also increase oversight. Governments should then invest in rigorous testing and see how the product evolves. For e cigarettes are changing rapidly in response to consumer demand. In America around 300m of them will be sold this year, three times the figure in 2012.

This seems to worry pharmaceutical firms, which in Europe are lobbying for curbs on e cigarettes, a competitor to their nicotine patches and other quitting aids. Big tobacco firms are working on e cigarettes of their own, as well as cigarettes that heat rather than burn the tobacco. But they have an interest in slowing the switch to smokeless smokes. If the innovative smaller firms that make most e cigarettes have to seek a licence every time they want to offer a new flavour or strength, the move towards safer nicotine consumption will be slowed.

Careless regulation costs lives

So far it seems that most regular vapers of e cigarettes are smokers or ex smokers. But over time the prospect of a relatively harm free nicotine kick could draw in many new users. This risk, and the lack of long term research on the residual risks of nicotine, argue for restricting the sales of e cigarettes to children. But as far as adults are concerned, they should be subject to less regulation than alcohol (which is far more harmful) and perhaps to no more than caffeine, another addictive and mildly poisonous substance whose widespread use governments see no need to curb. The risk of getting more people addicted to something relatively harmless is well worth taking, given the opportunity for curbing dramatically the world s single most harmful voluntary activity. Politicians should stand back and let a thousand e cig brands bloom.

Glaxo memo shows drug industry lobbying on e-cigarettes — bloomberg

GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK) is pushing for more stringent regulation of electronic cigarettes, which compete with its Nicorette gum and other smoking cessation products, according to e mails from a company executive.

Europe should follow the lead of the U.K., which plans to require e cigarettes to be licensed as medicines much the way other nicotine replacement therapy products are, wrote Sophie Crousse, the Brussels based vice president of European public affairs for Glaxo s consumer health care division.

Related Glaxo Sees 2014 Profit, Sales Rising on New Products

We believe in responsible and proportionate regulation for all nicotine containing products as medicinal products, Crousse said in an e mail dated Oct. 30. The message and other documents were made public last week through a freedom of information request made to the health and consumer affairs division of the European Commission.

The commission is revising the Tobacco Products Directive to regulate products such as e cigarettes that don t contain tobacco, yet are linked to tobacco use. E cigarettes, which Euromonitor International Plc estimates will generate $7 billion in sales by the end of this year, compete with quit smoking products sold by pharmaceutical companies including Glaxo, Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) and Novartis AG.

Upcoming Vote

In December, representatives of European Union governments and the European Parliament reached an agreement that the strongest e cigarettes would need authorization as a medicine. This would apply to e cigarettes with a nicotine strength of more than 20 milligrams per milliliter. The European Parliament is scheduled to vote next week on the compromise accord.

Glaxo also sought assurances that the revised directive will apply to e cigarettes already on the market and ensure a ban on advertising, according to company comments included in a draft of Article 18 of the tobacco directive. British American Tobacco Plc this week started a digital and television advertising campaign for the Vype e cigarette brand.

Safety is our number one priority and we support the smoker s right to choose from a selection of products that have well established safety and efficacy profile in helping them quit smoking, Simon Steel, a spokesman for London based Glaxo, said in an e mailed statement. All nicotine containing products including e cigarettes should be reviewed and regulated to the same standard of safety.

Tobacco Smoke

J&J, which markets the Nicorette line of products in all markets outside the U.S., is also strongly in favor of regulating all non tobacco nicotine products, including e cigarettes, as medicines, Caroline Almeida, a spokeswoman for the New Brunswick, New Jersey based company, said in an e mailed statement.

This is the best way to ensure all non tobacco nicotine products are advancing public health by means of effective, high quality and safe products, Almeida said.

Novartis (NOVN), the Basel, Switzerland based company that markets Nicotinell gums, lozenges and patches, didn t immediately provide a comment.

Smoking, E Updated

The primary components of e cigarette cartridges and vapor are propylene glycol, glycerine and nicotine. Smokers are harmed by the deadly tar and toxins in tobacco smoke.

In the U.K., the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency will require manufacturers to present data on the quality of their products, on how they deliver the addictive drug nicotine to the body and on how they compare with existing nicotine replacement products.

Research commissioned by the U.K. agency has shown that nicotine levels in some e cigarettes can be considerably different from the level stated on the label, according to Jeremy Mean, an official in the MHRA unit in charge of vigilance risk management of medicines.

To contact the reporter on this story Makiko Kitamura in London at mkitamura1

To contact the editor responsible for this story Phil Serafino at pserafino