Monday, March 25, 2013

Electronic cigarettes offer us a once-in-a-life-time opportunity for harm reduction and must be embraced

I blog exhausted and angry, with none of the comfort of the removed cynic. This is a piece I hoped I would never have to write. But to my horror, in an act of classic collective knee-jerk reaction, all around us countries move to ban electronic cigarettes. They have already been banned in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Mexico, and New Zealand, restricted in Finland, Malaysia, and Singapore, are pending restriction in the UK as a drug, and the subject of law suits by attorneys general in several US states.

It may sound like the stuff of conspiracy theories, but we should consider that a seemingly unlikely but wholly pragmatic alliance of tobacco companies and anti-smoking zealots have most to gain from ensuring that this marvel of technology is stamped into the ground before it has a chance to really do good. I can't bear to see it being dragged out from under our feet.

Are electronic cigarettes harmless? The jury is out, but they are surely safer than smoking cigarettes. The main danger from cigarettes is in the act of inhaling smoke and all the toxins it contains. Electronic cigarettes do not produce smoke, they produce vapour – steam. The vapour contains nicotine, but nicotine isn't the big danger – its the tar, smoke and numerous other chemicals that are responsible for the lung and throat cancers.

The hysterical and alarmist rhetoric from the opponents of E-cigs emphasises the fact that nicotine is a poisonous chemical, but posionous chemicals are found all over the house – children are taught not to drink bleach or petrol. E-cigs are new and people aren't yet sure where to place them. Given the right information they will learn.

We would do well to consider this in terms of a balance of probabilities rather than a unanimous verdict. We can say unanimously that smoking is bad for you and the healthiest option is not to smoke or take nicotine at all. But nicotine replacement therapy in the form of gum and inhalators is prescribed as a quit smoking aid because it is safer than smoking. It will take time for us to know for sure how safe electronic cigarettes are, but the fact that they do not involve inhaling smoke tells us that on balance of probabilities they are surely safer than smoking. I also know how I feel. I am a singer and smoking was ruining my voice. Since I took up vaping I haven't smoked in many months and feel so much better for it. I initially found vaping gave me a dry throat but I found that drinking more water sorted this problem out; after a few months of vaping my smokers cough is gone, my lung capacity has increased and my room and clothes no longer smells bad. The point isn't that e-cigarettes are primarily a quit smoking aid, but rather offer a safer alternative to smoking. Many people have been arguing this, to little effect.

Elaine Keller, vice president of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, said: 'I would still be smoking if not for this product.' Ms Keller said she has been tobacco-free since March 2009 after 45 years of smoking. She added: 'I can't point to anything to say it's 100 percent safe,' she said. 'The thing is, it only needs to be safer. The only standard is that it's safer than smoking.' Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, who studied the device said the device had great potential in reducing the harm of smoking. Writing in the Journal of Public Health Policy, they said: 'We conclude that electronic cigarettes show tremendous promise in the fight against tobacco-related morbidity and mortality.' Meanwhile a top US doctor, Keith Ablow, has come out in favour of them. By isolating nicotine, e-cigarettes should carry far fewer chemical risks than regular cigarettes, said Michael Siegel, a tobacco researcher at Boston University. Tobacco contains about 5,000 known chemicals, he said, with as many as 100,000 more that haven't yet been identified. E-cigarettes eliminate many of those ingredients. Siegel and a colleague reviewed 16 studies that analyzed the contents of electronic cigarettes. In a paper just published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, they reported that levels of certain harmful chemicals were on par with levels found in nicotine patches and hundreds of times lower than what's found in cigarettes.
"The relevant question is not, 'Are these things safe?'" he said. "But are these things much safer than real cigarettes, and do they help people quit smoking? The answer to both of those questions we know is yes."
"What New York is doing is equivalent to outlawing lifeboats on a sinking ship because they haven't been FDA approved," he added. "It's a really crazy approach to public health."
The anti-smoking zealots argue that electronic cigarettes will 'normalise' the act of smoking and get people into smoking. The answer to this is 'only if you now ban electronic cigarettes'. Electronic cigarettes taste and smell so much better, the notion that they would lead anyone onto smoking is absurd.
But the harm reduction argument is lost on these absolutists. They fail to see that if deprived of electronic cigarettes, those of us who are now happily vaping will likely return to smoking tobacco, and all the greater dangers that represents. It is a crashingly depressing prospect. We must stand up and be counted. Many of us feel embarrassed that we vape, perhaps a little ashamed that we haven't instead completely quit our addiction to nicotine. Instead we enjoy the vaping experience and feel better than we did when we were smoking. We must be given the individual liberty to make this harm reduction decision for ourselves. It may sound ridiculous, but now is the time to say “I vape and I'm proud”. Otherwise we will no longer have the option. The nanny state and Big Tobacco will make sure of it.
I am thankful that the wheels of the law turn slower in the UK than elsewhere, and I beg that the powers that be consider electronic cigarettes to offer a harm reduction alternative to smoking which must be regulated, licensed and embraced.. Meanwhile, I have stocked up on enough liquid nicotine to last another month. I dearly hope that our government does the sensible thing. But there are certain corporations who have so much to gain from making sure they don't.


theboogaloo79 said...

They're banned? I live in Oz and recently saw an ad for them on tele. I've also used them as theatre props, which is what I thought they were specifically used for. They're a little strange and complicated for my liking to 'replace' normal cigarettes, but hey... whatever rocks your boat.

theboogaloo79 said...

They're banned? I live in Oz and recently saw an ad for them on tele. I've also used them as theatre props, which is what I thought they were specifically used for. They're a little strange and complicated for my liking to 'replace' normal cigarettes, but hey... whatever rocks your boat.

Hüsteeriline Hüaan said...

Good day Nick,

Thanks for pointing this out. It's a shame really and I for one did not see this coming. Hopefully something will change for the better and e-cigs will be legal everywhere.

The funny thing here is that:
1. I read this blog in hopes to learn more about you as an artist and person.
2. I read this blog in hopes to know more about your music.
3. I love your music.
4. I'm not a smoker :P and never have been...

And hell... this is the first time I've posted after years of reading this blog. Well may you never die of lung cancer and I wish you best of luck, both in your personal life and with Gravenhurst.

Have a awesome and e-cig-filled 2013,


Unknown said...

The anti-ecig lies and bans aren't a knee-jerk reation: they are funded by commercial rivals who will lose billions of pounds. The pharmaceutical industry will be the big loser here, their immense drug market for the treatment of sick smokers will take a 50% hit if ecigs become popular. This hugely-profitable market includes chemotherapy drugs, COPD drugs, vascular drugs, cardiac drugs, and all the other treatments for ill smokers including the boost to many other drug sales. This market is over £50bn a year globally.

As a result, pharma pays for bans, and for propaganda on an epic scale. For example you probably don't know that nicotine is not particularly addictive absent tobacco smoke; that there is not one single clinical trial of nicotine's effects on humans (plenty on animals - but we know that animal nicotine models don't transfer to humans) There are plenty of clinical trials on the addictiveness of smoking, but since there are 5,300 other ingredients in tobacco smoke, that is irrelevant. You might not know that nicotine is a normal and natural part of the diet and everyone tests positive for it; and that one form of nicotine is a vitamin (nicotinic acid, or 'niacin' - vitamin B3).

Because of the propaganda, people are more likely to believe, fallaciously, that nicotine is some sort of alien, dangerous, toxic, highly-addictive chemical. Aubergines (eggplants) and ketchup have comparatively high amounts compared to the other nicotine-containing vegetables like tomatoes and potatoes; but no one has suggested, as far as I am aware, that aubergines or ketchup are addictive and/or kill you.

Most tea contains nicotine. Tea works because you get caffeine, nicotine, and 3 other active alkaloids. No one has suggested that tea kills or is harmful.

Pharma buys politicians and committee members to ban ecigs, and they buy bent medics to spout the lies and propaganda that provide justification. It's all about the money, always was about the money, always will be about the money, and has absolutely nothing to do with health and never will do.

There is no health-based or evidence-based reason whatsoever to ban or restrict e-cigarettes - read the facts:

Nick Talbot said...

Yes - absolutely in agreement. Many of the negative reactions to e-cigs have been kneejerk (the hysterical anti-smoking absolutists), but the tobacco companies opposition to e-cigs is entirely rational.

attu gautam said...

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Anonymous said...

There is not any doubt that Electronic Cigarette is a best replacement of traditional cigarettes and it is less harmful.

Zeeshan no said...

They're banned? I live in Oz and recently saw an ad for them on tele. I've also used them as theatre props, which is what I thought they were specifically used for. They're a little strange and complicated for my liking to 'replace' normal cigarettes, but hey... whatever rocks your boat.
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