Wednesday, October 5, 2011

British Government Endorses Tobacco Harm Reduction, E-Cigarettes

The British Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insights Team (BIT), or the “nudge unit”, as the year-old high-level group is called, strongly endorsed tobacco harm reduction in its first annual report (read the report here).

The BIT’s mission is “to find intelligent ways to encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves.” The unit reported that “smoking remains the biggest preventable cause of death in the U.K., killing over 80,000 a year in England alone,” and that “treating smoking-related diseases costs the [National Health Service] £2.7 billion each year in England.”

BIT observed: “A review by the [British] Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency concludes that ‘nicotine, while addictive, is actually a very safe drug.’ BIT is working with [the U.K. Department of Health] on how to encourage smokers to substitute to safer but nonetheless appealing sources of nicotine, noting that products that produce a fine vapour appear to reproduce the pleasant ‘hit’ without the harms associated with smoking.”

This statement is remarkable. It confirms what I have been reporting for over 17 years: Nicotine, “while addictive, is a very safe drug.” BIT observes that nicotine is a recreational drug that can be used safely, like caffeine and alcohol, and notes that there are efforts to get smokers to substitute “safer but nonetheless appealing sources of nicotine”. E-cigarettes are cited as potentially effective substitutes because of their behavioral attributes.

This positioning by such a high-level entity should significantly advance tobacco harm reduction initiatives on a global scale. U.S. regulatory authorities, in particular, should take note. For the British government, the challenge now is to translate concepts into practical applications. Although e-cigarettes are widely available in the UK, snus and other smoke-free products remain under an EU ban. As awareness of the benefits of tobacco harm reduction increases, British smokers will rightfully demand access to the full range of smoke-free products that are available in Sweden and the U.S.


Anonymous said...

I'm sceptical about this. The drug companies have a lot of influence in the UK and they are not going to take the collapse of their massive gum, patch and inhalator business lying down. The Government might approve of the concept of ecigs, but this could end up with their approval of a device, manufactured by a drug company, priced only slightly cheaper than cigarettes, like their gum - rather than a fraction of the price, like snus and ecigs.
Jonathan Bagley.

James said...

"For the British government, the challenge now is to translate concepts into practical applications."

I respectfully disagree. Tens of thousands of UK smokers have switched to e-cigarettes, despite zero help from the government until now, and indeed despite the constant threat from anti-smoking bodies, the EU and a big-pharm dominated MHRA.

Far from having to develop practical applications, the government could do worse than letting smokers make their own choices and companies get on with marketing the e-cigarette.