April 30, 2016
The British Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has taken an official stance promoting the use of e-cigarettes for current smokers. “Nicotine without Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction,” a report released by the RCP on Thursday, explicitly supports encouraging the use of e-cigarettes as a method to decrease the harmful effects of tobacco while assisting those who want to quit consuming tobacco products.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that deliver nicotine and flavor in the form of vapor from a liquid solution heated by a coil, as opposed to traditional cigarettes, which release smoke from burned tobacco. “Vaping” is often the term used to describe the use of e-cigarettes.
Some studies have concluded that e-cigarettes could be harmful to the immune system and make quitting tobacco difficult, while others have warned of the effects of e-cigarettes on teens and called them a gateway to consuming conventional tobacco products.
According to the RCP’s report, there has been no evidence that teens in the UK are encouraged to smoke as a result of vaping, and e-cigarettes could increase the likelihood of success for those who want to quit smoking by 50 percent. The report also stated that “the hazard to health arising from long-term vapour inhalation from the e-cigarettes available today is unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm from smoking tobacco.”
“This is the first genuinely new way of helping people stop smoking that has come across in decades,” John Britton, director of the UK Center for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham and leader of the committee that wrote the report, told the New York Times.
According to Britton, e-cigarettes could “have the potential to help half or more of all smokers get off cigarettes.”
The College’s stance is in contrast to the US and world organizations, such as the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre on Tobacco Control, which opposed the harm reduction model in a letter to WHO Director Margaret Chan in January of 2015. Regarding the promotion of e-cigarettes as harm reduction, the letter authors declared that “the negative consequences of these acts remain in cancer and heart disease hospital wards throughout the world.”
The CDC has recently raised several concerns about e-cigarettes, particularly about use by teens, which the organization said tripled from 2014 to 2015. The CDC has called e-cigarettes a public health challenge because of the possible harmful effects of tobacco on young people’s development and “surveillance and research gaps” when it comes to the knowledge of the long-term effects of the devices. In response to this report, a CDC spokesperson said there is “no conclusive scientific evidence” that e-cigarettes are a “safe and effective cessation tool” and that “most e-cigarette users continue to smoke conventional cigarettes.”
“These guys, in my view, are going off a cliff,” Stanton A. Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Times. “They are taking England into a series of policies that five years from now they all will really regret. They are turning England into this giant experiment on behalf of the tobacco industry.”
The RCP’s report states that the e-cigarette industry should be regulated, and with technological advancements and “improved production standards,” e-cigarettes could become less harmful in the long run. The report also raises concerns about teens and the gateway theory. However, the authors said “there is no evidence that any of these processes is occurring to any significant degree in the UK” and that most users are using e-cigarettes as a safer alternative.
“With careful management and proportionate regulation, harm reduction provides an opportunity to improve the lives of millions of people,” RCP President Jane Dacre said in a statement. “It is an opportunity that, with care, we should take.”
- CDC, “E-cigarettes: An Emerging Public Health Challenge”
- CDC, “E-cigarette use triples among middle and high school students in just one year”
- dailyRxNews, “E-Cigs: Less Harmful Alternative or Smokescreen?”
- dailyRxNews, “E-Cigs Might Make It Harder to Kick the Habit”
- dailyRxNews, “E-Cigs: The Lesser of Two Evils?”
- dailyRxNews, “Health Claims of E-Cigs May Be Going up in Smoke”
- NIH, “DrugFacts: Electronic Cigarettes (e-Cigarettes)”
- New York Times, “Smokers Urged to Switch to E-Cigarettes by British Medical Group”
- RCP, “Nicotine without smoke: Tobacco harm reduction”
- RCP, “Promote e-cigarettes widely as substitute for smoking says new RCP report”
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