The United Kingdom recently announced a tobacco products directive that would place harsh restrictions on electronic cigarettes. A group of 15 leading academics sent a letter to Health Commissioner Tony Borg arguing that the directive overstates the health risks of nicotine and lacks evidence that harsh e-cig restrictions are actually necessary.
The Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) suggests a limit of 20 milligrams of nicotine in electronic cigarettes. This limit is based on belief that 60 milligrams of nicotine can be lethal. As well, the TPD proposed restrictions on sale locations and advertising to prevent a gateway effect from leading non-smokers (particularly those of a young age) to becoming smokers.
The letter argues against both these points. First, the believed lethality of 60 milligrams of nicotine is based on outdated information — presumably coming from a flawed study dating back to 1856 (that’s 158 years ago). Most modern cigarettes contain roughly 50 milligrams of nicotine and actual toxicity of nicotine is far lower than most studies would suggest.
Concerning the presumed gateway effect, most experts now argue that the kind of gateway effect people often warn against rarely exists. Evidence actually support the belief that electronic cigarettes provide a gateway away from smoking rather than to it. Some researchers even believe that electronic cigarettes existing on the market prevent people from smoking by offering a safer and cheaper alternative.
Letters and public statements like these are becoming far more common. More and more experts and politicians are appearing that support the open availability of electronic cigarettes rather than opposing it. Market research shows that the majority of the public believes electronic cigarettes are a safer alternative to smoking and a successful cessation option for many smokers.
The Tobacco Products Directive is a landmark political battle. It will represent one of the first significant national-level electronic cigarette regulatory motions. Some countries have already made national-level decisions about e-cigs, but this would be the first non-knee jerk reaction national legislations against electronic cigarettes. This could be the first national-level e-cig debates in the world to get due discussion and consideration.
As such, it is clear that the academic community is not sitting idly by and letting regulators push through whatever they think feels right.
Resistance is not futile.