In the past, the usual approach for most smokers willing to quit used to be the use of alternatives such as nicotine gum, nicotine patches, inhalers, tablets, among others, mainly as medical aids. Perhaps, due to the limited efficacy of such alternatives, interest and conversation around tobacco health reduction have, over time, intensified among global health authorities and other stakeholders.
In this regard, the tobacco industry has been able to harness technology in a bid to responsibly address the concerns of stakeholders about the impact of smoking on human health. The industry has taken advantage of improvements in technology to champion the adoption of electronic cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco smoking. Electronic cigarette, commonly called vaping or e-cigarette, is a handheld device that simulates the feeling of tobacco smoking. It works by heating a liquid to generate an aerosol, commonly called a ‘vapor’ that the user inhales. The product is widely believed to be relatively safer than regular cigarettes since it contains no tobacco, does not involve combustion and the vapour that is inhaled is devoid of any harmful constituent of tobacco smoke. Remarkably, it also gives the same pleasure derived from smoking conventional cigarettes.
E-cigarette is the product of years of extensive research by tobacco companies into safer alternatives to conventional or regular cigarettes. It is a testament to the efforts of the tobacco industry towards tobacco harm reduction. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) defines tobacco harm reduction as “reducing the illnesses and death caused by smoking tobacco among people who smoke and those around them.” Tobacco harm reduction involves the use of alternative sources of nicotine as a replacement for smoking and has proven to be another choice for smokers. There is a consensus between regulatory and medical authorities that the product is relatively safe.
Research has shown that more and more people are beginning to turn to e-cigarettes to enjoy the same pleasure as they would with the regular cigarette. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) estimates that 2.9 million people in Britain are said to have adopted e-cigarette. The trend is gradually catching on in sub-Saharan Africa. Interestingly, in Nigeria, there is a rising popularity of the product among smokers, especially regular callers at hotels, clubs and bars. These locations, as well as shopping malls and stores, are notable sales points for the product. There is also a growing awareness of the product among the general populace.
Public Health England (PHE), for the first time, in August 2015, officially recognized e-cigarettes as less damaging to health than smoking tobacco. PHE said that, “Vaping is safer than smoking and could lead to the demise of the traditional cigarette.”
The health body noted further that, on “the best estimate so far, e-cigarettes are about 95% less harmful than tobacco cigarettes and could one day be dispensed as a licensed medicine in an alternative to anti-smoking products such as patches.”
PHE’s position was backed by the British Government’s Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, who also made a case for the products’ regulation: “I want to see these products coming to the market as licensed medicines. This would provide assurance on the safety, quality and efficacy to consumers who want to use these products as quitting aids, especially in relation to the flavourings used, which is where we know least about any inhalation risks.”
Also, in February 2018, the PHE called for the stocking of hospitals with e-cigarettes for sale to patients and permission of vaping in private rooms as part of the UK National Health Service (NHS) “smoke free” efforts. The NHS bosses had proposed that smoking shelters should become “vaping lounges” for less risky e-cigarette use. Prof. John Newton, a leading expert from PHE, advocated for the sale of e-cigarettes in hospital shops and rehabilitation centers after the result of a new review of e-cigarettes was published by PHE, detailing evidence undertaken by leading independent tobacco experts. The review indicates that vaping poses only a small fraction of smoking risks.
Furthermore, switching completely from smoking to vaping leads to substantial health benefits, which include substantially reduced levels of measured carcinogens and toxins. In addition, e-cigarette may possibly contribute to people quitting smoking for up to 20,000 quits annually. This view is corroborated by a number of medical research associations and academies in the United Kingdom such as Cancer Research UK, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Physicians, as well as a major US science body, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The United Kingdom has been very supportive of e-cigs as smoking-cessation tools, and the product has been proven to contribute to improved quit success rates as well as an accelerated drop in smoking habits across Britain.
PHE recommends continuous monitoring and regulation of use, especially among young people, noting that the use standardized methodology must be top priority for regulators and the manufacturers. The pattern of purchase should also be closely monitored, particularly purchases made via the internet, as well as the age of customers. These should be monitored and enforced. With all these aligning, e-cigarette will indeed become the future of smoking.
Wherever the pendulum swings in the debate, what is paramount is that as much as consenting adults are within their rights to make personal choices such as smoking, it is still the responsibility of the government to regulate and control the consumption of the product and ensure public health safety is secured.
Adetuberu sent this piece from Lagos