News & Comment

Revolution in smoking could "eradicate" the cigarette

Sat 31st December, 2011

Some of the biggest names in tobacco are poised to launch a generation of "harm reduction" devices that could eventually replace cigarettes. 

One, being developed by a 29-year-old Oxford graduate, has attracted the attention of BAT, one of the world's largest tobacco companies, which has bought the rights to market it. A profusion of electronic and other devices has appeared in the past year, thanks to a legal loophole which allows them to be sold freely so long as they do not make any health claim .

An estimated 10 million "e-cigarettes", which are shaped to look like the real thing and simulate smoking by heating nicotine to produce an inhaled mist, have been sold worldwide. Other devices, similar to asthma inhalers, deliver the nicotine as a vapour or powder drawn directly into the mouth or lungs.

UK regulators are considering ways to bring the new devices within the law but campaigners are insisting on "light touch" controls which could make it legal to market them in newsagents and supermarkets alongside cigarettes. Pure nicotine, though highly addictive, has few side effects and a low risk of overdose – it is the tobacco in which it is contained that is lethal.

The Royal College of Physicians has called for the devices to be made more widely available. In a 2007 report, the college argued for a "harm reduction" approach which aimed to move smokers on to safer substitutes, to supplement the existing therapeutic approach using nicotine patches and gum to help smokers to give up.

The Cabinet Office's behavioural insight team has backed the new technology. In its report in September, the unit said: "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."

A spokesman for the anti-smoking group ASH said: "E-cigarettes have taken off in the last year. Companies are taking the opportunity to market them while they are unregulated. We think light touch regulation is a sensible way forward. Compared to smoking, they are not nearly as harmful. But there is still too much uncertainty about their safety."

Source: Independent (31 December 2011)

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