Having set up and run a business for 25 years before entering this place, I am always keen to meet businesses in my constituency. Some 18 months ago I arranged to meet a retailer with a new business called Smoke No Smoke, run by the very entrepreneurial Jim Lacey. The business sells e-cigarettes. On my visit I learnt about the product. Its customers are often people seeking to give up smoking, who have come to include a member of my staff. It was through his contacts and visits to the shop that I became aware of a potential EU directive that is a particular concern to the sector. The directive could bring the business to an end and affect many people who are trying to stop smoking.
Most smokers know that smoking is bad for their health. Many have wanted to quit, but quit rates are extremely low, with only 3% to 5% of people trying to quit managing to do so. Many have turned to e-cigarettes as a substitute. E-cigarettes consist of an electronic inhaler that vaporises a liquid into an aerosol mist, simulating the act of tobacco smoking. E-cigarettes are the same size and shape as cigarettes. They are held in the same way and treated as cigarettes. The difference is that while cigarette smokers smoke for the nicotine but die from the tars and gases released by the burning of tobacco, e-cigarettes deliver nicotine in an aerosol form but, crucially, without the hazards that accompany tobacco smoking. There are, of course, other ways of getting nicotine, such as patches, gum and lozenges, and nicotine is not harmless. However, Action on Smoking and Health states that there is little real-world evidence of harm from e-cigarettes. There are some trace toxicants present, but at a much lower level than in cigarettes.
A recent article in The Economist sums up the position very well:
“People smoke because they value the pleasure they get from nicotine in tobacco over the long-term certainty that their health will be damaged. So it seems rational to welcome a device that separates the dangerous part of smoking (the tar, carbon monoxide and smoke…) from the nicotine. And that is what an e-cigarette does.”
The article finishes by asking rhetorically, “Who could object?” It seems the EU can object, because it is introducing a draft tobacco products directive, which proposes to regulate non-tobacco nicotine-containing products, including e-cigarettes, by classifying the vast majority of these products as medicines. Every product with more than 4 mg of nicotine per millilitre would have to be reclassified. E-cigarettes come in a range of concentrations, from zero—that is, nicotine-free—up to 48 mg per ml, with the average user choosing about 18 mg per ml. Choosing 4 mg per ml would mean a de facto ban on such products. E-cigarettes are not medicines; they are recreational nicotine products.
However, I do not want Members present or the Government to take my word for it about the benefits of this product. Let us take my constituent, Mr Preston. He and his wife started using e-cigarettes 12 months ago. Previously he smoked 30 a day and his wife smoked 20 a day. They had tried all cessation methods available on the market, none of which worked. Since starting to use e-cigarettes, neither has smoked a conventional cigarette. Mr Preston estimates they have saved up to £400 a month alone. He is 65 years old and tells me that he now wakes up each morning without a heavy chest and an immediate cough. He describes it as
“no longer waking up with that ‘bottom of the birdcage’ feeling”.
Another user said:
“After 32 years of being a smoker I love my e-cigarette and never want to try having a cigarette again! Am on day 50 now, the longest I’ve ever managed”.
Although I am not proclaiming that e-cigarettes are a positively healthy alternative to conventional smoking, I believe that the removal of the hazardous tar from cigarettes, while still providing the nicotine that smokers look for, means the product should be studied closely and be saved from the forthcoming EU directive.