Regulate and sell, don’t ban

Professor Wayne Hall and others write:

Over the past ten years, a substantial minority of cigarette smokers in many countries have turned to electronic (e-) cigarettes in an attempt to quit smoking or as an alternative to smoking some or all of the time. In 2013 around 600,000 Australian smokers had tried e-cigarettes, while there are currently around 2.6 million e-cigarette users in Great Britain.

These devices avoid burning tobacco and don’t produce smoke, tar and particulate matter. Instead they use an electronic system to produce a mist containing nicotine and propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerine that can be inhaled much like tobacco smoke to deliver nicotine to the lungs.

E-cigarettes deliver much lower levels of toxins and carcinogens than cigarettes, and are 95% less harmful than cigarettes according to some proponents.

But Australia has banned the sale of e-cigarettes containing nicotine. Nicotine can only be imported for use in vaporisers on a medical prescription, but a spokesperson for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians would like to ban this too.

The sale is banned in NZ also.

As we argue in the recent edition of the journal Addiction, the ban on e-cigarettes is ethically questionable. It’s a paternalistic policy that denies adult smokers the right to use a less harmful form of nicotine.

Banning a less harmful product (e-cigarettes) while allowing the most harmful (tobacco cigarettes) to be freely sold is an incoherent form of risk regulation. It also disadvantages smokers who may have difficulty quitting but want to reduce the risks of smoking.

To be blunt it is fucking stupid.

We oppose laissez faire policies towards e-cigarettes because they may increase the risks that have motivated the ban – dual use by smokers, uptake by minors, and re-normalising smoking. But there is another more ethically acceptable policy option: allowing e-cigarettes to be sold to smokers, while using tight regulation to minimise adverse outcomes.

We propose allowing adult smokers to buy approved e-cigarette products from a restricted number of licensed sales outlets. Any promotional material for these products could be restricted to information supplied to smokers purchasing these products.

A sensible compromise – regulated sales rather than a ban.

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