Friday, August 17, 2018

E-cigarettes - more evidence of English exceptionalism

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has just published a report on e-cigarettes. Those involved in tobacco control outside England are amazed at its conclusions although not entirely surprised as the England has long been an international outlier on this issue, far out of step with the rest of the world. For example, two major reports, from the US National Academies ofScience and, only a few days ago, from Australia, highlight how much is not known. The American Heart Association agrees that " the potential health effects unknown, especially in long-term users" and has made a series of recommendations that are almost the opposite of those in the Commons report. And it's not just in the Anglophone world. leaders of the European Respiratory Society recently responded to a paper on e-cigarettes in England saying "(A) There is little evidence that e-cigarettes are an aid to smoking cessation and much evidence that tobacco manufacturers are advertising e-cigarettes as a bridge to starting nicotine and as a vehicle for long term continuation”; and “(B) no-one, expert or otherwise, can credibly assert that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco in the long term, given that they contain a whole new tranche of unregulated and unstudied compounds being inhaled into the lung."
It is especially astonishing that the 95% safer figure is used, given that it has no credibility internationally. There are serious questions about the funding of the meeting it came from and it is simply impossible to know how safe a product is when it has only been used widely for a relatively short time. It took decades to discover the health effects of smoking. 
The World Health Organisation has said explicitly that a precise figure cannot be given, referring to "Unsubstantiated or overstated claims of safety and cessation". Also, as reported earlier this week in a study from Birmingham, new evidence is appearing weekly raising concerns about safety.
It is equally astonishing to see the claim that they are a proven smoking aid given the recent publication of a large controlled trial in the New England Journal of Medicine concluding that "Among smokers who received usual care (information and motivational text messages), the addition of free cessation aids or e-cigarettes did not provide a benefit. ". Moreover, there is now lots of evidence from observational studies that they reduce quitting.
The suggestion to increase nicotine is especially worrying given that organisations such as ASH have argued that the UK is safe from the rapid increase in use of Juuls by schoolchildren seen in the USA because of the lower levels permitted here. The report simply dismisses concerns such as that by the former chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Tobacco Consortium, who has said “Juul is already a massive public-health disaster". But then, the report ignores the considerable evidence that these products are a gateway to smoking.
Fortunately, other countries are not following England's direction, despite massive pressure from a very well funded Big Tobacco operation. Instead, they are waiting for the results on our giant experiment on our people.

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