Today’s BBC Radio 4 You and Yours programme discussed electronic cigarettes:
“Other countries have banned them, for example the Canadian government says they’ve not been fully tested and could lead to nicotine poisoning and addiction. Here, [in the UK] they’re legal. Next month, though, that could start to change.”
Later on in the segment, Julian Worricker announced that “in the UK, they are not currently regulated”, which is entirely untrue as ECITA has been demonstrating for the past several months!
It is most unfortunate that this BBC program gave air time to an ecig supplier, Cigirex, who doesn’t even seem to know his own product – describing the vapour as being “100% water vapour”, which is entirely inaccurate – and Linda Rosenthal, a New York State Assembly Member, who talked about consumers’ being “deceived and deluded” and said: “Nobody knows, except the e-cigarette manufacturers, what e-cigarettes contain: what chemicals are in there, how much nicotine is in there”, which is also entirely inaccurate, (as discussed by Professor Michael Siegel in his blog dated Tuesday January 25th 2011, which directly addresses the issue of the knowledge base we have concerning the chemical constituents of electronic cigarette nicotine liquid (‘eliquid’)) – but refused to allow any factual input from other sources. We offered to contribute, but were not given this opportunity.
‘Next month’ is an interesting interpretation of the MHRA’s provided information, which was that it is hoping to publish its decision ‘shortly’. ‘Shortly’ is an elastic term, which may be used to describe the length of a piece of string, but which does not appear to imply that anything will happen in any kind of swift time-frame. At ECITA, we have heard the term ‘shortly’ repeatedly concerning the publication of the MHRA’s decision, dating all the way back to April of last year!
Having spoken with Jeremy Mean at the MHRA today, I can confirm that the message coming from them is still that they are hoping to publish their decision ‘shortly’. He is not aware of any plans to publish their decision ‘next month’, but is anticipating a new government report concerning smoking and health, which was apparently due for publication in January. (This has not yet been published. No doubt it will be on its way ‘shortly’!)
Other areas of the media from around the globe appear to have been jumping on the bandwagon of misinterpretation, misinformation, rumour-spreading, fear-mongering and, in some cases, outright lying. On 7th December 2010, the Independent Online published an article entitled ‘More bad news for ecigarettes’. ECITA submitted its response, which was published on our blog. However, since that time, the FDA lost its petition in the US for a rehearing and rehearing en banc. This seems to have lead to something of a media frenzy – but one entirely lacking in research, or any desire to find out any FACTS before publication or broadcasting.
One of the most preposterous of these was Prime Health Channel’s publication of an article under the heading ‘Electronic Cigarette Dangers and Side Effects’. After suggesting that the “Electronic Cigarette Association is the body that includes all private companies in trading of electronic cigarettes” despite the fact that the ECA never included all traders, and has been defunct for some months now anyway, this article purported to provide details “about some of the main Electronic Cigarette dangers”.
At the top of the list, of course, is diethylene glycol, which this article suggests is “one of the major Electronic Cigarette side effects” while failing to mention that diethylene glycol was a contaminant found in minuscule quantities in one out of 16 cartridges originally tested by the FDA. No study since has found any trace of diethylene glycol.
Under the heading ‘Toxicity’, this article states: “e-cigarettes also contain cancer-causing compounds like nitrosamines” without mentioning the fact that existing licensed NRT products, such as patches and gum, also contain these nitrosamines, and in similar, very small amounts.
The rest of the nonsense spouted in this story is entirely ridiculous when one applies the more relevant comparison of the electronic cigarette to the tobacco cigarette, rather than attempting to decide whether or not electronic cigarettes are inherently safe. The evidence is in on the important question here: public health experts have now demonstrated that the electronic cigarette is approximately 99% safer than tobacco cigarettes.
PHC’s final paragraph borders on criminal in its misinformation:
“While Electronic Cigarettes are less dangerous compared to real cigarettes, they are still a threat to smokers. For an effective removal of smoking habit, it is best to give up smoking completely. It is best not to try to stop smoking with Electronic Cigarettes.”
So the message provided here from Prime Health Channel (along with so many others) is ‘Quit, or die. Medicinal NRT products are available to help you quit. What we won’t tell you is that these fail for 93% of smokers trying to quit this way. So you’ll end up returning to smoking, which will most likely kill you. But never mind; we will have tried.’
As for switching to a healthier alternative and not bothering with ‘quit or die’? Well, of course, that’s not an option you should even consider! (A wonderful ‘tongue-in-cheek’ response to this issue was provided by NewsBiscuit, who published an article ‘Smokers banned from naming or pointing at favourite brand‘ highlighting the absurdity of current tobacco control measures.)
The Mail Online was also guilty of trotting out the Rosenthal brand of ‘quit or die’ message in its article ‘Miracle cure or menace? E-cigarette faces ban as safety debate rages over unregulated quit-smoking device‘, published on 26th January. Leaving aside the inaccuracies in the title itself, since e-cigarettes are neither ‘unregulated’ nor ‘quit-smoking devices’, this article does at least make an attempt at presenting a balanced argument.
As far as regulation is concerned, it is entirely inaccurate to suggest that electronic cigarette products are currently unregulated in the UK. On the contrary, ECITA’s members have been working closely with our regulators, Trading Standards, to ensure that all the correct regulatory requirements are being met… and often exceeded. The Head of Product Safety for Gloucestershire, Mark Gardiner said:
“I believe that the current state of knowledge about potential hazards and the risks of these causing harm are adequately addressed by the GPSR [General Product Safety Regulations] regulatory framework. The thing we are certain of on current evidence is that it is far safer than traditional tobacco based nicotine delivery systems.”
The US, however, has an altogether different problem with appropriate regulation, not least since the enactment of the ill-thought out Tobacco Act, which gave yet more powers to the FDA. Professor Michael Siegel had this to say about it:
“The Tobacco Act is not a science-based policy. It is a pure political maneuver, designed to have the appearance of being a bona fide health measure, but in reality being a complete scam that institutionalizes cigarettes, creates an FDA seal of approval for cigarettes, and protects existing cigarette products from competition from potentially safer ones.”
However, on January 18th this year, Barack Obama published an article entitled ‘Towards a 21st-Century Regulatory System‘. There are some very interesting comments in this article, such as:
“…we have, from time to time, embraced common sense rules of the road that strengthen our country without unduly interfering with the pursuit of progress and the growth of our economy.
Sometimes, those rules have gotten out of balance, placing unreasonable burdens on business – burdens that have stifled innovation and have had a chilling effect on growth and jobs”
and, talking about the new executive order he is signing:
“This order requires that federal agencies ensure that regulations protect our safety, health and environment while promoting economic growth. … It’s a review that will help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades. [...] (our emphasis)
But we are also making it our mission to root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb. [...]
We’re also getting rid of absurd and unnecessary paperwork requirements that waste time and money. We’re looking at the system as a whole to make sure we avoid excessive, inconsistent and redundant regulation. And finally, today I am directing federal agencies to do more to account for – and reduce – the burdens regulations may place on small businesses. Small firms drive growth and create most new jobs in this country. We need to make sure nothing stands in their way.”
Fine words indeed from Mr President, but will they really spell the end of the FDA’s egregious attempts to abuse the regulatory powers they have been granted? Judge Richard Leon described it beautifully in his conclusion when ruling against the FDA in the preliminary injunction hearing in January last year:
“Unfortunately, its [the FDA’s] tenacious drive to maximize its regulatory power has resulted in its advocacy of an interpretation of the relevant law that I find, at first blush, to be unreasonable and unacceptable.”
On ‘You and Yours’ today, Julian Worricker said: “The point that Linda Rosenthal makes is ‘let’s wait until a proper, rigorous, independent test is carried out, and then by all means, market and sell e-cigarettes’.” What the BBC’s researchers could and should have found out prior to this broadcast is that such testing has been carried out… several times now. But unfortunately, all that has been publicised is the FDA’s own biased, thoroughly inaccurate, totally un-independent and scientifically-bereft testing of e-cigarettes, which has since been widely discredited.
We are contacting the BBC in the hopes that it will want to uphold its reputation for balanced and accurate reporting by holding further debates on this critically important subject, so that smokers can be provided with accurate information about the choices available to them, and may no longer be told to quit or die.