A billion lives

Stuff reports:

A billion people are projected to die this century from smoking and there could be a solution but it’s not a perfect one.

While a new documentary looks into the life-saving potential of , the New Zealand Government has announced its plans to fund further research on vaping technology and its role in helping Kiwis quit smoking.

E-cigarettes or vaporisers are electrical devices that mimic real cigarettes by producing vapour by heating an “e-liquid” solution, which the user inhales, or “vapes”. E-liquid is available with or without nicotine and usually contains propylene glycol and flavouring agents.

A Billion Lives – a film about the potential e-cigarettes have to save lives and reduce harm by switching smokers to vaping nicotine had its world premiere in Wellington on Wednesday

While the doco doesn’t tout e-cigarettes as a magic wand or a perfect solution, director Aaron Biebert says its a step in the right direction.

Both Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians have said that they could play a major part in reducing smoking rates.

The same day the documentary premiered the Government’s Health Research Council (HRC) announced its plan to spend almost $150,000 on funding research on e-cigarettes.

At the moment e-cigarettes containing nicotine cannot legally be sold in New Zealand, but you can import up to three months’ supply for personal use. 

And this is crazy. e-cigarettes are more restricted than actual cigarettes!

There are basically three policy settings you can have:

  1. E-cigarettes are more restricted than cigarettes
  2. E-cigarettes have the same restrictions cigarettes
  3. E-cigarettes have less restrictions than cigarettes

Now one can have a debate about whether it should be (2) or (3). But we’re got (1). It’s madness. It is the equivalent of the Government banning low alcohol beer yet allowing any dairy to sell bottles of vodka.

The Ministry of Health says there is not enough evidence for it to recommend e-cigarettes as an aid to quit smoking. It currently encourages people to stick to patches, lozenges and gum.

They don’t need to recommend anything. They just need to allow their sale, so people can choose what method of quitting works best for them. And I know lots and lots of people who have quit smoking through e-cigarettes and vaping.

So will this new publicly funded trial, led by University of Otago marketing professor Janet Hoek, provide the evidence needed for the ministry to make up its mind on vaping?

Hoek says while there is general agreement that e-cigarettes are safer than combustible tobacco, smokers will only achieve substantial risk reductions if they switch completely from smoking to using e-cigarettes.

Hoek says the current understanding of the transition between smoking and e-cigarette use is poor due to a lack of data. 

The 12-month trial will use a novel “smart” e-cigarette to collect information including puff duration, nicotine intake, and the frequency and intensity of use.

HRC Chief Executive Professor Kath McPherson says e-cigarettes are “a topic of hot debate” both in New Zealand and around the world.

“Research such as this will help us build up the evidence that we need to determine if e-cigarettes actually do help people quit smoking.

It is good to see funding for a trial. There has been lots of overseas studies, and the Royal College of Physicians has said they have no doubt they help people quit smoking, are far less harmful, and not a gateway to smoking – in fact the opposite a gateway from smoking. But I agree NZ specific research is good.

Marewa Glover, an Associate Professor at Massey University’s School of Public Health, has just completed an on-line survey of e-cigarette users, or vapers.

While data was still being analysed, she said it was clear from responses that most vapers were using e-cigarettes as a way of reducing how much they smoke, or to quit altogether.

This is no surprise. Basically smokers get addicted to the nicotine, yet it is the tar that kills them. So a product that gives then the nicotine, without the combustion of the tar is going to work for people who are addicted to nicotine. Some people can quit nicotine alltogether, but many can’t. So a far far less harmful nicotine product is a sensible thing to have available.

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