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E-Cigs - As harmless as caffeine in coffee

In July this year, health experts advised the UK government that the nicotine contained in some new, smoke-free cigarettes is no more harmful than caffeine in coffee.

In an attempt to reduce the numbers killed in the UK by smoking related diseases each year, some key officials at the UK Cabinet are encouraging the use of e-cigarette products in a bid to reduce smoking-related deaths, thereby encouraging smokers to use smokeless nicotine products as an alternative to the existing toxic alternative.

The Cabinet Office’s behavioural insight team – better known as the nudge unit – wants to adopt this new technology because policy officials believe the rigid “quit or die” approach to smoking advice no longer works. Ten million people in the UK currently smoke, and smoking claims 80,000 lives a year, costing taxpayers vast sums in health care and social support.

A sensible way forward is to target nicotine addiction by letting those that like to smoke, so do in a controlled and healthier way, thereby potentially preventing millions of smoking deaths over time.

The Cabinet Office annual report reads: “It will be important to get the regulatory framework for these products right, to encourage new products. A canon of behaviour change is that it is much easier to substitute a similar behaviour than to extinguish an entrenched habit (an example was the rapid switch from leaded to unleaded fuel). If alternative and safe nicotine products can be developed which are attractive enough to substitute people away from traditional cigarettes, they could have the potential to save 10,000s of lives a year.”

John Britton, professor of epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, told the Guardian that on top of the current smokeless range – which includes electronic or “e-cigarettes” that simulate smoking by producing an inhaled mist – there are three or four devices in different stages of development. But he said some companies have been reluctant to develop this technology because they had expected it to be as tightly controlled as pharmaceutical drugs.

Britton said: “If a manufacturer makes a health claim for anything then it becomes a drug, and drugs have to be regulated with tight controls. The current nicotine replacements are sold as drugs; however, e-cigarettes contain nicotine but get around this by making no health claim and so can be sold freely, but with little or no information on safety or standards. What we’re asking for is a regulation change to bring all nicotine products into a light-touch regime that will guarantee reasonable purity and safety standards but make them as available as cigarettes in a shop.”

The Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is looking into approving these devices for use. If it finds in their favour, the government is likely to push for them to be placed prominently in shops alongside tobacco cigarettes, where they would be sold at a cheaper rate.

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