Relax laws on e-cigarettes, urge MPs

Regulations on the licensing, prescribing and advertising of e-cigarettes need to be relaxed, says a report from Parliament’s cross-party Science and Technology Committee. Despite being thought to be 95 per cent safer than conventional cigarettes (DDN, September 2015, page 4) e-cigarettes are ‘too often being overlooked as a stop-smoking tool by the NHS’, the document states.

The report found that e-cigarettes are not a significant ‘gateway’ into smoking for young people and do not pose a significant risk through second-hand inhalation. It recommends reconsidering the tax levels relating to the devices to encourage more people to switch from conventional cigarettes, and calls on the government to ‘consider risk-based regulation to allow more freedom to advertise e-cigarettes as the relatively less harmful option’.

There also needs to be a ‘wider debate’ on how e-cigarettes are dealt with in public places such as buses and trains to reach a solution that ‘at least starts from the evidence’ rather than misconceptions about health impacts, it adds, while NHS England should establish a policy of allowing people in mental health facilities to use the products ‘unless trusts can demonstrate evidence-based reasons for not doing so’.

The committee also wants to see the government, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and e-cigarette manufacturers review how approval systems for stop-smoking therapies can be streamlined when products are put forward for medical licensing. However, a research programme into any long-term health impacts also needs to be established, it says, overseen by PHE and the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment. Currently around 2.9m people in the UK use the products.

‘Smoking remains a national health crisis and the government should be considering innovative ways of reducing the smoking rate,’ said Science and Technology Committee chair Norman Lamb. ‘E-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, but current policy and regulations do not sufficiently reflect this and businesses, transport providers and public places should stop viewing conventional and e-cigarettes as one and the same. There is no public health rationale for doing so. Concerns that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to conventional smoking, including for young non-smokers, have not materialised. If used correctly, e-cigarettes could be a key weapon in the NHS’s stop smoking arsenal.’

‘The UK has an effective regulatory model for e-cigarettes which we should be proud of,’ added ASH chief executive Deborah Arnott. ‘However, today’s call to improve the process to enable e-cigarettes to be licensed as medicines is extremely welcome. E-cigarettes have already helped many smokers to quit, but they could help many more. Licensed products could transform the public’s understanding of e-cigarettes and help many more smokers see vaping as a viable alternative to smoking.’

 E-cigarettes report here

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