Scotland the Brave

Posted 24th November 2014 by Dave Cross
Scottish MPs were informed that “Electronic cigarettes offer a huge potential benefit...a huge public health prize” during a Health and Sport Committee meeting at the Scottish Parliament.

Despite some overtly paranoid and hysterical comments the balance of the contributions were very favourable towards vaping.

John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, embodied a common sense approach when informing Holyrood’s health committee that nicotine offers no more danger than caffeine.

Chaired by Richard Lyle MSP, the proceedings began with him asking for clarification on the contents of e-liquid – making reference to Jeremy Mean’s prior claim that “we don’t know what’s in them”.

Katherine Devlin, representing the trade body ECITA, listed out the ingredients we are all familiar with. She highlighted the pharmaceutical quality of the ingredients and the lengths gone to in order to ensure safety, noting that there are still steps to be taken. She said: “We are working on producing an emissions standard in conjunction with the British Standards Institute. It is something we should have done before today.”

Of note are three further comments she made which will impact on the industry as a whole. “We absolutely support an age restriction. Retailers say that without a mandated restriction it is very hard to achieve through self-regulation,” she informed the committee before adding, “We think nicotine free products being left outside of legislation is a mistake.

With reference to the many small producers of liquids and potential legislation, Katherine Devlin said: “We need to push the standards on them. There should be no product out there containing nicotine without child resistance caps.”

Both Devlin and Britton cautioned against excessive legislation. “We have to be careful we don’t do more harm than good,” said Devlin.

It is very important I think when legislating and controlling the inevitable abuses of the market that will come with electronic cigarettes, and the inherent risks within the products which we still know relatively little about – it is important to manage those risks, but not in a way that throws the baby out with the bath water, because there is a huge potential public health prize in these products,” Britton added.

Doctor Richard Simpson MSP called for a European-wide research program but Devlin cautioned that our experience to date is that the EU has been far from constructive when looking at data and any research would need to be clearly thought out in advance.

Highlighting the wealth of information already at our disposal, John Britton pointed out “we know a great deal about the long-term effects of nicotine from studies of oral tobacco in Scandinavia. Over decades of use we know a lot about the risk potential or the pattern of risk in lifetime users as opposed to non-lifetime users. And while I can’t say there is no risk, the risk is very, very low.” He also cited the ASH UK annual surveys and the work carried out by Professor Robert West.

When looking at the potential to ban vaping from public spaces, no one spoke out in support of legislation apart from Claire McDermott, a tobacco control policy officer. Concern was raised that vapers should not be legislated against as though they were still smokers and positive stories were relayed regarding the success of allowing vaping in hospitals, mental health institutions and Guernsey Prison.

John Britton pointed out that the smoking ban was introduced to protect people who work in those places and that although the evidence on e-cig use is that it does release some nicotine and toxic chemicals the levels are extremely low. Paraphrasing Robert West, he said quitting smoking is like being in a nightclub when the fire breaks out – the exit isn’t important as long as it leads out.


 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker