South African legislator adopts ‘wait and see’ attitude to tobacco smoking alternatives is out of step with international trends towards reduced harm and reducing risks posed by tobacco smoking. Carte Blanche’s expose last Sunday and with the announcement by the US Food & Drugs Administration, (FDA) last week, it is clear that e-cigarettes are safer than combustible cigarette.
Dr Vinayak M Prasad, the Programme Manager, leads the WHO Tobacco Free Initiative (TFI) and is responsible for the overall coordination of tobacco control programme in WHO HQ in Geneva, was recently quoted on ‘Carte Blanche’ saying, “The first recommendation from WHO is don’t consume any form of Tobacco but for those who are already addicted to tobacco use, and if they want to move to ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems) that is a 100% positive move”.
“On July 28, the US government put forward proposed measures to reduce the levels of nicotine in cigarettes to ‘non-addictive levels’. The purpose of the legislation is to have smokers opt for smoking less harmful e-cigarettes.” The Reuters news agency reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA) Commissioner, Scott Gotlieb, stressed during his announcement that nicotine itself was not responsible for cancer, lung and heart diseases taking the lives of ‘hundreds of thousands of Americans each year.
“Dread disease, the Commissioner says, is caused rather by the other chemical compounds in tobacco caused by lighting tobacco and its smoke that have been shown to cause illness and death amongst smokers.”
“As the FDA cannot ban cigarettes, it has taken the opportunity to cutting levels of harm by reducing nicotine levels in cigarettes to encourage a move towards vaping. These are smoked in e-cigarettes, which contain nicotine, but no tobacco, nor any of the chemicals that have been linked to conventional cigarettes.” The Vapour Products Association of South Africa would like to reiterate its previously shared position that vaping is a safer alternative to smoking and should thus be discussed, reviewed and regulated separately from tobacco. South African legislators have the opportunity to drastically reduce the mortality rate from smoking as well as reduce the impact that smoking related diseases have on the non-communicable diseases budget. Vaping is the disruptor to the current smoking rate in South Africa.
“At VPA, we fully agree with analysts that the latest regulations in the USA and the UK, will be followed by other governments who are intent; because they cannot stop tobacco use, on encouraging less harmful alternatives. In the process, they will save billions of lives for subsidised healthcare systems and improve the health of citizens.”
“In South Africa, legislation on tobacco products if applied equally to e-cigarettes would be disastrous to those looking for safer alternatives and highly beneficial to the Tobacco industry – a position that is hard to understand when vaping products contain none of the harmful substances, nor create smoke that is dangerous to others.”
“The Association, however, agrees that sales of vapours and e-cigarettes devices should be restricted to people over the age of 18. All VPA members commit themselves to this principle and apply it to all products they distribute, says Kabir Kaleechurn, Director of VPA. Again, the approach adopted by Matthew L. Myers, President of the worldwide, WHO’s Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, pointed the way forward for reducing harm and simultaneously reducing tobacco use to the benefit of children, says Mr Kaleechurn.”
In a statement following the FDA announcement, Mr Myers said that the FDA announcement ‘represents a bold and comprehensive vision with the potential to accelerate progress in reducing tobacco use and the death and disease it causes in the United States. The FDA should move quickly and aggressively to implement these proposals, which can prevent kids from ever becoming addicted to tobacco and help more smokers succeed in quitting.
The emphasis on reducing harm is increasingly being adopted by international opinion makers who point to evolving scientific and empirical data that support the case for e-cigarettes. Amongst the most recent announcements have been:
- John Britton, Chair of the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians who said: ‘We demonstrate that smokers smoke predominantly for nicotine, that nicotine itself is not especially hazardous, and that if nicotine could be provided in a form that is acceptable and effective as a cigarette substitute, millions of lives could be saved…”
- Public Health England: ’We know that e-cigarettes are the most popular quitting tool in the country with more than 10 times as many people using them than using local stop smoking services.”
- E-cigarettes could lead to a 21 percent drop in deaths from smoking-related diseases in those born after 1997, (according to a study published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research, The funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Cancer Institute and the Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modelling Network)
- Robert West and Dr Jamie Brown (University College, London) wrote in the British Journal of General Practice in 2014, that for every million smokers who switch from tobacco to e-cigarettes, over 6,000 premature deaths would be prevented in the UK every year. If all the 9 million smokers took up e-cigarettes instead, 54,000 lives could be saved
- Vaping and vaporisers are 95% less likely to cause cancer and other smoking-affiliated illnesses. Although it is not possible to precisely quantify the long-term health risks associated with e-cigarettes, available data suggest that they are unlikely to exceed 5% of those associated with smoked tobacco products, and may well be substantially lower than this figure. (Public Health, England).
“Rather than bundling the problem with the solution, the South African health authorities have a unique opportunity to save South African smokers lives. We should be considering alternatives and implementing strategies to reduce the dangers of tobacco smoking. Taking positive steps, as was the case when HIV/AIDS became a threat to national health, could result in the nation changing smoking habits, thousands of lives being protected and billions being saved in an already overburdened state healthcare system,” says Mr Kaleechurn.