E-cigarettes ‘could help save millions’, MSPs told

A man smokes an electronic cigarette. Picture: PA
A man smokes an electronic cigarette. Picture: PA
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ELECTRONIC cigarettes could deliver a “huge potential public health prize” and potentially help save millions of lives, a tobacco expert told MSPs.

Campaigners have expressed concerns about the use of ­e-cigarettes – which allow smokers to inhale nicotine through a vapour – among children, and the lack of studies into their ­effect on the human body.

The Scottish Government is now consulting on whether to ban sales to under-18s, making it illegal for adults to buy ­e-cigarettes for those under age, as well as restrictions on advertising, including billboards, point of sale and events sponsorship.

However, a tobacco and alcohol expert claimed that the increased use of e-cigarettes may help many people stop smoking and improve public health.

John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies (UKCTCS), suggested the increased popularity of the smoking simulators could cut down the use of more harmful tobacco products. The UKCTCS group is backed by the UK Clinical Research Collaboration.

Speaking at Holyrood’s health committee yesterday, Mr Britton said the battery-powered e-cigarettes could offer smokers a less dangerous alternative and potentially save millions of lives across the UK.

He said: “Electronic cigarettes offer a huge potential benefit to public health by helping smokers to shift to an alternative source of nicotine.

“If all smokers in Britain were to do that we would be talking of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of premature deaths avoided.”

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Mr Britton went on to warn ministers against over-­regulating e-cigarettes, which leading health campaigners have claimed continue to normalise smoking to children.

He said: “It is very important I think when legislating and controlling the inevitable abuses of the market that will come with electronic cigarettes, and the inherent risks within the products which we still know relatively little about – it is important to manage those risks, but not in a way that throws the baby out with the bath water, because there is a huge potential public health prize in these products.”

Mr Britton was speaking at a Holyrood round table discussion on e-cigarettes, which also heard from smoking cessation charities and industry representatives.

Sheila Duffy, chief executive of anti-smoking charity ASH Scotland, said: “We would love to see people who are addicted to tobacco being able to use these products instead of tobacco or to quit a tobacco addiction. But there are so many unknowns. I think the little evidence that we have supports an optimistic but cautious approach.”

Jeremy Mean, of the UK government’s department of health, said “a measured approach” was being taken in England over the regulation of e-cigarettes.

He said: “We can’t be confident that the range of products is safe and therefore can’t recommend their use to people. But we don’t want to remove something that has potentially a great value.”

More than 1.3 million people are estimated to now use ­e-cigarettes in the UK.

Katherine Devlin, president of industry body the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association, said the industry “absolutely support the mandating of an age restriction” and that full research into the health effects of e-cigarettes was needed.

Ms Devlin said: “We have to be enormously careful. The risk if we were to remove everything from the market, is we will see all those people who have made the switch to electronic cigarettes potentially returning to tobacco smoking.

“I agree that we need more research and we need to move faster on it.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Electronic cigarettes need appropriate regulation. While we accept that the devices may potentially help people smoke fewer cigarettes, or even stop altogether, there is concern that they could also re-normalise smoking. That is why we are seeking views on a number of potential changes to the regulation of e-cigarettes.”

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