Nicholas Hall Writes from London

NHPostcard.2014Nicholas Hall’s Postcard from London: I normally don’t send postcards from London, which is a short hop from my island paradise of Guernsey. But yesterday’s battle with floods and gale force winds was as exhausting as crossing the globe, which I will start again tomorrow. Next stops: Singapore, Shanghai, Phoenix, New York, New Jersey.

Last week I wrote: “The spread of e-cigarettes is seen by many as worsening, not improving, the huge tobacco dependence problem”, and I was challenged by a reader of OTC.Newsflash. I’m always keen to check my assumptions — it’s the only way to learn, adapt and grow. Certainly, there is a large body of informed opinion that supports this point of view. In November 2013, OTC.Newsflash reported a UC San Francisco study that concluded: “Use of e-cigarettes is associated with heavier use of conventional cigarettes, which raises the likelihood that actual use of e-cigarettes may increase harm by creating a new pathway for youths to become addicted to nicotine and by reducing the odds that an adolescent will stop smoking conventional cigarettes.”

That point is picked up by the British Medical Journal editor, but an equally compelling and opposite argument is provided by Professor West (Cancer Research UK) who stated that: “Cigarettes at the moment are killing in the region of 6mn people every year. Can you imagine if every one of those cigarette smokers used an e-cigarette instead? We would see the death toll drop. While people say that we don’t know yet whether e-cigarettes are safe, the answer is we know what the ingredients are … nothing is perfectly safe, but compared with a cigarette they are 100x safer if not more.” However, former Government drugs advisor, Professor David Nutt believes that switching all smokers to e-cigarettes would be the “greatest health advance since vaccinations”. He told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I’m totally in favour of this kind of harm reduction approach. These e-cigarettes should not be controlled as medicines — they should be controlled more lightly than cigarettes in order to encourage people to switch.”.

Where the debate will end is anybody’s guess — mine is fairly tough regulations. But whatever the outcome, it does have the benefit of raising awareness of the problem of tobacco dependence, and if this leads to more initiatives such as those in the next three stories, then public health and our self-care industry will be the ultimate winners.

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