Magazine article The Spectator

In Praise of E-Cigarettes

Magazine article The Spectator

In Praise of E-Cigarettes

Article excerpt

The e-cigarette means that tobacco is going the way of the top hat. So what is the medical establishment's problem with it?

Credit: Matt Ridley

If somebody invented a pill that could cure a disease that kills five million people a year worldwide, 100,000 of them in this country, the medical powers that be would surely encourage it, pay for it, perhaps even make it compulsory. They certainly would not stand in its way.

A relentless stream of data from around the world is showing that e-cigarettes are robbing tobacco companies of today's customers -- and cancer wards of their future patients. In Britain alone two million now use these devices regularly. In study after study, scientists are finding e-cigarettes to be effective at helping people quit, to show no signs of luring non-smokers into tobacco use and to be much safer than their noxious competitors.

So what in heaven's name explains the fact that Dame Sally Davies, the government's chief medical officer, when asked by theNew Scientist in March what was the biggest health challenge we face in Britain, named three things, one of which was the electronic cigarette? That's like criticising contraception because you prefer abstinence.

The NHS is confident that these devices are about 1,000 times less harmful than cigarettes. The government confirmed this figure in a parliamentary answer to me. It's the tar in smoke that kills, not the nicotine -- a substance that is about as harmful as caffeine.

We know vaping (as it's known) works better than any other method of giving up smoking. A forthcoming study by Professor Robert West of University College London finds that e-cigarettes proved 60 per cent more successful as a method of quitting than nicotine patches, gums or going cold turkey. By a country mile, free enterprise devices are outstripping the health results of medicinally regulated devices. And for many vested interests that is the problem.

We know that most people use e-cigarettes to cut down or give up smoking. This has been confirmed by three big surveys, the latest of which, conducted by Ash, the anti-smoking group, was published this week: two thirds of users in the survey were smokers and one third were ex-smokers. That means in the few years since the products first appeared, hundreds of thousands of people have used them to give up or cut down.

We know that e-cigarettes are not proving to be a gateway into tobacco. In the biggest global survey, 0.4 per cent of vapers were non-smokers and not one of them went on to smoke. In the UK, 20 per cent of 15-year-olds are regular smokers: they are mostly the ones who try vaping, so even in the young the technology is a gateway out of smoking, not into it. (And it makes snogging taste better.) Yet what is the UK government's main legislative response to e-cigarettes so far? To ban sales of e-cigarettes to children.

Do the maths. If e-cigarettes are 1,000 times less harmful than cigarettes, then for every youngster who goes from smoking to vaping, there would have be a thousand going the other way before there is net harm. If anything, the ratio is the other way round: in one American study, nine out of ten school-age vapers had started as smokers.

The firms that make e-cigarettes -- which are mostly small start-up companies, the technology having come from China -- are not allowed to claim they can save your life. …

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