The net has been buzzing with the release of this letter from trading standards officer Helen Wales informing that the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulation Agency (MHRA) is near the completion of its consultation and expects to apply a 21 day period for regulatory compliance for e-cigarettes in Britain after which if they have not furnished the data and fees to make the cut they will be banned.
There is good reason for some sort of standards for any widely used product. This is just a very bad way of going about it.
If cigarettes did not exist and e-cigarettes were some unique nicotine delivery device then this approach would not be entirely out of sorts. It would still be unusually demanding in its short time frame for compliance but the worry would center more around commercial concerns than concerns of health.
However we have been repeatedly reminded by national authorities that too many people are dying from smoking, implying that these same authorities think this is not a good thing, and also implying that they would support actions that would bring down those mortality figures.
The MHRA supposedly works in the interest of the people. It has been estimated that 400,000 of those people are using e-cigarettes. Polls of vapers have found that 1. almost every one if not all of them are ex-smokers 2. almost all of them have tried and failed at quitting using other methods 3. most of them have been able to remain cigarette free and 4. most of them believe that were e-cigarettes removed from the market they would find themselves smoking again.
No matter how politically bent or misguided the MHRA is, they no doubt know all this. They know that these people have successfully switched away from smoking but that they might return. Even if the only study they like to cite is the one negative and misleading FDA study, that every other study has shown e-cigarettes to be vastly safer than smoking. They know all this, and they know that even the FDA study showed that e-cigarettes were much safer than smoking.
So the message comes down to that they would prefer that people smoke than use e-cigarettes. A conspiracy theorist might even think that there has been a collusion between Big Tobacco and Big Pharma to head off this threat and restore the lost customers to their previous cycle of smoking and every now and then purchasing failure prone cessation therapies. What it boils down is a resounding Let them eat cake!
This is a horrible and tragic betrayal of the public trust from an agency that rubs neck and shoulders with others who love to in every tobacco related press release or report make sure to include some stats about how many people are die or will die from smoking. It is also a story you probably won’t see in the New York Times and other media.
If the MHRA follows the track it says it will, it will not generate the horrific pictures that reports from civil wars or disasters do, but the body count will be higher; it will just take longer. (And though the MHRA might not have quite the high profile the FDA does, it could have provided an international example of a common sense response to a long existing health concern, saved thousands of lives in the bargain and encouraged others to do the same but now there is every likelihood that this de facto ban will encourage other countries’ agencies to condemn e-smokers as well).
We had a real chance of something momentous happening – a new solution that people naturally gravitated to without any governmental push and now the only government involvement is the one stopping smokers from making the healthy switch.
(Back in April at the International Harm Reduction Association conference I was asked by a friend who was working in the British e-cigarette industry if I thought they would end up being banned in that country and at the time I said though I hoped terribly that I would be wrong, I suspected given the way tobacco related issues tend to turn out, that they would end up banned. I suppose there is still the slightest chance this ban will not go through and I do hope that even now on the eleventh hour I will end up being wrong.)