Use of e-cigarettes should be encouraged

Regulating or banning electronic cigarettes would be a backward step, argues Bríd Hehir

One of my oldest friends is a dedicated smoker. Despite having a cough that would rattle the house, and the accompanying breathlessness associated with emphysema, she persisted with the 20-plus cigarettes a day that she has smoked for the past 40 years.

But when I spent a weekend with her recently, a miracle had happened. She was using an electronic cigarette and was loving it. Okay, she has not yet weaned herself off the real things completely, but a 75% reduction is something to celebrate; a devoted smoker reducing her nicotine intake and well on her way to quitting.

These products are amazing. They look like cigarettes but do not burn tobacco or create smoke. Instead, theyallow the user to inhale nicotine vapour. So they can be enjoyed inside, in a pub for example, and the smoker no longer feels like an outcast by having to go outside to indulge the habit.

Figures released by health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) suggest that 2.1 million people now use the devices, up from an estimated 700,000 in 2012. That is a fantastic 300% increase. ASH chief executive Deborah Arnott said: ‘The dramatic rise in use of electronic cigarettes over the past four years suggests that smokers are increasingly turning to these devices to help them cut down or quit smoking. Significantly, usage among non-smokers remains negligible.’

But despite their many benefits, there is a call to have e-cigs banned or their use restricted. Public health professionals are concerned that they could be bad for our long-term health, with the British Medical Association and the Welsh Government not wanting them to be ‘smoked’ in enclosed public spaces.

Why all this concern? Essentially, it is the precautionary principle, because the long-term effects are unknown. Experts also fear their use might ‘normalise’ smoking again and introduce it to a new generation.

But according to ASH, there is no evidence from its research that e-cigarettes are acting as a gateway into smoking. And if we wait 40 years to find out whether they do cause some long-term problems, we are helping to sentence people who want to quit to the health problems anti-smoking organisations have been banging on about for years.

I am thrilled that innovation is winning out over regulation to date. If more smokers switched to e-cigarettes to reduce the harm caused by tobacco, the long-term benefits for health and NHS purse strings will be enormous. Provided the prohibitionists and social engineers do not get their way first, of course.

For more information check out the ASH fact sheet.

Brid Hehir

About the author

Bríd Hehir is a fundraising manager for the Do Good Charity, which sponsors nurse training and education in Africa. She worked in the NHS until 2011 as a nurse, midwife and specialist heath visitor, and latterly a senior manager. She is a regular contributor to spiked and is a Battle of Ideas committee member.

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