A world-renowned crusader against tobacco use has controversially endorsed e-cigarettes as a means to help smokers to quit and called on government not to regulate them.
Dr Derek Yach, executive director of Discovery’s Vitality Institute, said yesterday that e-cigarettes “deliver nicotine to smokers without harmful consequences”, as it is the tar in cigarettes not nicotine that kills people.
However, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi has indicated that he plans to pass laws to regulate the use of e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine vapour to users via an electronic device.
Speaking at a media lunch hosted by the Electronic Cigarette Association of South Africa, Yach described nicotine as “an addictive substance with very few side-effects”.
Yach, who led the development of the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, also called on doctors to advise smokers that they were better off using e-cigarettes than tobacco, as half of them would die from smoking if they didn’t quit.
But Dr Yussuf Salojee of the National Council Against Smoking said nicotine was classified as a Schedule three substance in South Africa, “which means it should only be sold with a prescription”.
Nicotine stimulates the nervous system, increasing the heart rate and blood pressure.
“It is not like those selling e-cigarettes have tried to reach an understanding with the Medicines Control Council. They are blatantly ignoring the law and selling their product,” said Salojee.
He disputed Yach’s assertion that, while nicotine was addictive it was not particularly harmful, pointing out that pregnant women and people with cardio-vascular disease were advised not to use “nicotine replacement therapy” such as e-cigarettes and nicotine gum.
“If e-cigarettes were a medicine, they would have to pass safety and efficacy standards before they were introduced into the market. But we simply don’t have enough research at this stage to know whether e-cigarettes are dangerous or beneficial as a replacement for cigarettes,” said Salojee.
Research from the US-based Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CFTFK) shows that e-cigarettes were more popular among US kids than cigarettes last year
Meanwhile, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reports that poisoning related to e-cigarettes and nicotine liquids is soaring. In a single year, calls to the US poison control centers relating to e-cigarette exposure doubled from 2013 to 2014, while a one-year-old boy died last year after accidentally swallowing liquid nicotine.
“The big increases in both youth use of e-cigarettes and poisoning cases show that e-cigarettes present danger to our children. How much more evidence does the government need before it acts?” asked CFTFK.
CFTFK’S Patricia Lambert said “the most important thing that those who champion e-cigarettes like to ignore is that we simply do not know enough to take categorical positions. There isn’t enough reliable scientific data”.
“I’m particularly alarmed when people promote e-cigarettes in Africa, where smoking rates are still relatively low. Health advocates should be focussing all their energies on reducing our low smoking rates rather than promoting new products that are, at best, questionable,” added Lambert, who was instrumental in drawing up South Africa’s anti-tobacco laws when she worked as a special adviser to then health minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Yach believes that while government could tighten up on the safety of e-cigarettes and prevent their sale to kids, the industry should regulate itself.
Regulation of e-cigarettes put them in the same category as cigarettes, when they were far less harmful, he argued.
In South Africa, the vapour used by e-cigarettes is sold in a number of flavours that would appeal to youth and children, such as apple, cinnamon banana and berry blaze. – Health-e News.
An edited version of this story was also published in the Pretoria News newspaper