November 22, 2016

E-cigs saving 407,550 British lives

E-cigs saving 407,550 British lives

The UK’s burgeoning e-cigarette industry offers the greatest gift to public health since the discovery of penicillin. We must nurture its growth, not stifle it, says William Walter.

E-cigarettes save lives. There are around 2.6 million ‘vapers’ in the UK, of whom one-third are former smokers and two-thirds are so-called ‘dual-users’: vapers who still smoke. Public Health England estimates e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than smoking. And this differential is important. Half of all regular smokers die from their addiction. In the UK, just shy of 100,000 lives are lost every year because of smoking related diseases.

Time for a bit of maths. Assuming Public Health England’s estimate of the relative harm of smoking to vaping translates directly to lives lost (a pretty big ask), it would mean that in the UK alone vaping has already saved the lives of some 407,550 people (95 per cent (relative harm) of one-half (number of smokers that die from their habit) of one-third (proportion of vapers who have given up smoking) of 2.6 million (number of vapers in the UK)). Obviously, this kind of calculation is racked with difficulties. Aside from the relative harm assumption, the calculation also assumes that the third of vapers who have given up traditional cigarettes won’t go back to them, and that by switching to vaping they will not incur any of the legacy health consequences their smoking habit has gifted them. But, conversely, the calculation takes no account of the two-thirds of vapers who are ‘dual users’. It can be reasonably assumed that by taking up vaping, these smokers have reduced their regular consumption of cigarettes, which in turn would lead to commensurate health benefits and, hopefully, a reduction in lives lost.

Even if this calculation’s wrong and ditching the fags in favour of vaping only results in, say, half the estimated lives saved my calculation predicts, it would still mean 203,775 lives have been saved. These figures certainly don’t seem unrealistic given Public Health England publicly estimated that up to 76,000 lives would be saved every year if all smokers switched to electronic cigarettes.

But what about all those for whom vaping’s a gateway on to smoking? A legitimate concern, but so far the evidence doesn’t support it. It’s estimated that fewer than one per cent of vapers had never smoked before they began vaping. In fact, since electronic cigarettes have been on the market, smoking prevalence has declined among children.

Another concern are the longer-term effects of e-cigarettes on vaper’s health. While there’s a greater bank of research regarding the effects nicotine has on the human body, less is known about the effects of ingesting nicotine and some of the other chemicals present in e-liquids such as diacetyl and glycerol, via the lungs. But even the worst-case scenario of vaping’s long-term effect pales in comparison to the known long-term effects of traditional cigarettes on public health. Consumers and policy makers alike are confronted with a choice between two products: one that is known to kill one-in-two of its users, or another which independent medical experts deem to be 95 per cent safer, but whose long-term effects are not known, and will not be known for at least another decade or two, but are certain to be less than those of traditional cigarettes.

E-cigarettes are a game changer. For the first time since the introduction of the modern-day cigarette over a century ago, smokers have a real and viable alternative, allowing them to enjoy the pleasurable effects of nicotine, but without the ensuing negative health consequences associated with smoking tobacco.

But there’s a catch. Rather than capitalise on the greatest gift to public health since the discovery of penicillin, officials are caught like a rabbit in the headlights. Meddling mandarins in Brussels have conspired with bumbling bureaucrats in Westminster to transpose arbitrary restrictions on e-cigarettes that threaten to squander our chance to rescue countless smokers from the perils of their habit and to gift them a second chance at life. The restrictions, which were dreamt up in Brussels and written into law over here earlier this year are wide ranging, but the most punitive see limits imposed on both the size of e-liquid containers and the amount of nicotine they can contain. The upshot of these arbitrary restrictions is that they make e-cigarettes a less appealing option to would be smokers desperate to kick their habit.

One suggestion talked about in Westminster is the passing of an amendment to the anticipated Great Repeal Bill, under which the EU-made laws within the bill would stop being in force after five years. Such a ‘sunset clause’ would deliver the twin benefit of liberating the arbitrary constraints imposed on the UK’s embryonic e-cigarette industry, while also throwing off the shackles of other Brussels born bureaucracy. Tempting.

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William Walter
William Walter is the Founder and Editor of Comment Central. He began his career in Parliament working for three Conservative MPs — the then Shadow Minister for Universities & Skills, Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Opposition Treasury whip, James Duddridge MP, and former Shadow Pensions Minister, Nigel Waterson MP. In addition to his Parliamentary work he has also written for a range of publications, including: The Daily Telegraph, City AM, Metro and Conservative Home.
  • Other large-scale reviews of scientific literature from independent organisations have similarly concluded that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco. The 2014 Cochrane Review, for instance, found that there is no health risk associated with short-term use of e-cigarettes.

    All these groups are moving towards a broad scientific consensus that vaping, when compared to conventional tobacco consumption, could present a critical tool in global harm reduction. Importantly, these groups are focusing on the ‘relative risk’ of vaping compared to cigarettes – a very important distinction because nearly all vapers are current or former tobacco users looking for an alternative.

    Nonetheless, because e-cigarettes are still a nascent category, it is important that researchers continue to conduct long term studies and clinical trials into vaping and health. As a responsible manufacturer, Fontem Ventures is committed to conducting this type of research and making a meaningful contribution to the growing body of scientific literature around vaping products through our peer-reviewed, published studies.

    For example, our own science has shown that blu closed system e-cigarettes release no detectable levels of carbon monoxide and other chemical analytes are reduced by >98% per puff compared to levels measured in smoke from tobacco cigarettes. This in turn leads to a >99% reduction in in vitro toxicity when compared to tobacco cigarettes. Importantly, our clinical research has shown that the levels of harmful and potential harmful chemicals are significantly reduced when smokers completely or partially use blu e-cigarettes; exclusive use being indistinguishable from cessation.

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