Why an Anti-Smoking Crusader Would Embrace E-Cigarettes

Derek Yach writes:

Over the last decade, a range of new reduced-risk nicotine products such as electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have appeared on the market. Millions of smokers have used them to successfully replace their regular cigarettes, reducing their risk of cancer, heart disease and lung disease. However, this positive trend is under attack by tobacco control leaders and physicians who fear that the new products will be as bad as cigarettes or who simply do not trust the tobacco companies that are creating some of these products.

I can understand their views. For decades I led tobacco control efforts, first in my native South Africa, then globally as a cabinet director at the World Health Organization (WHO).

Yach is a long-time anti-smoking activist.

The science in favor of e-cigarettes is maturing and the UK government’s evidence update today suggests that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful to health than normal cigarettes, and earlier this month the Royal Society for Public Health issued a statement on nicotine being no more harmful to health than caffeine. Based on this evidence, it is time for public health groups in the U.S. to recommend that smokers who seek to quit should switch to e-cigarettes.

Meanwhile in NZ it is illegal to sell them, but legal to sell tobacco.

It is time to end the war on e-cigarettes and view them as the smoking cessation aid that they are. This cultural change begins with a smarter regulatory path. Policymakers need to adopt regulations that encourage smokers to shift to reduced-harm products such as e-cigarettes and tighten up on regulatory actions aimed at regular cigarettes.

Last week, we saw a glimpse of what those policies might look like. 3 leading health economists writing in the New England Journal of Medicine – Frank Chaloupka, David Sweanor, and Kennet Warner – called for tobacco excise taxes to be set proportionate to the harm the product causes. These 3 played a key role over the last 20 years in placing excise tax and pricing at the core of WHO, World Bank, and government actions taken to curb use. Having worked with them, I know that the world’s finance ministers take their voice seriously.

My view is that we need to build a significant gap between the actual prices of regular tobacco products versus reduced risk products, starting with an increase in tax on the former without favoring local brands (a practice followed in many developing countries) and by keeping the tax on reduced risk products very low for at least 2 decades or until they command 75% of total sales of nicotine products.

I blogged previously on NZ research that predicted we could make the 2025 smokefree (less than 5%) goal by continuing to increase the excise tax by 10% a year, and allowing e-cigarettes sales. I’d much prefer this to plain packaging, banning smoking in outdoor areas etc.

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