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Royal College of Physicians’ John Britton

Regulator Watch interviews Professor John Britton about the RCP ecig report.

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When the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) released their “Nicotine without Smoke” report it was described as “ground-breaking” in many circles. Professor John Britton, professor of epidemiology and Chair of the Tobacco Advisory Group at the RCP, led the team responsible for its completion. Regulator Watch quizzes the academic in an interesting and positive interview.

Interviewer Brent Stafford summed up the RCP report with two words: “comprehensive” and “definitive”. “32,000 doctors and one of the most prestigious organisations in western medicine,” produced a document that stated unequivocally “the risks are small and the benefits are great”.

“It’s hard to overstate the impact this report could have on the regulatory debate in Canada,” Stafford continued, “or, it could be dismissed as was the report last summer from Public Health England [PHE] (which found that vaping is 95% safer than smoking).”

And boy did the anti-vaping lobby work hard to dismiss the PHE report. A clip of provincial health officer Perry Kendall shows him doing his best to denigrate it: “That was done by a small group of experts using their best guess *laughs* as to how harmful it was. It wasn’t really a scientific process; it was individuals, a group of individuals, getting together with David Nutt (who’s a good psychiatrist and good on substance abuse), but it was their best guess.”

It is ironic they decry the lack of science considering the likes of Kendall frequently misappropriate or invent results and conclusions. On the other hand, John Britton is clear about the benefits ecigs offer: “E-cigarettes can certainly save lives.”

“We in Britain nearly have 9 million smokers, and we know that nearly half alive today ... will die prematurely from their habit unless they quit. And we also know that quitting is extremely difficult, so while we would like everybody just to stop smoking it’s hard. It doesn’t happen. So electronic cigarettes can substitute for tobacco.”

“These products have the potential to save millions of lives – and that’s only in one particular country. They are potentially huge!”

Brent Stafford: “Wow, Professor Britton, that’s certainly a strong endorsement for e-cigarettes. Does the RCP report represent a definitive statement on behalf of doctors in the UK?”

John Britton: “It’s a definitive message from the Royal College of Physicians. The Royal College of Physicians has been in existence for five hundred years or more and speaks on behalf of the profession in the UK. So the report itself was produced for the college by a group of us but has been viewed and approved by the college council.”

“So it’s a fairly strong opinion but, of course, there’s a mixture of views held in the UK just as there are in Canada and everywhere else in the world.”

Brent Stafford: “A ‘mixture of views’? That’s a polite way to describe the controversy.” Cheekily replied. “There will be detractors who try to dismiss the report straight out of hand...”

John Britton: “Well, I don’t think that the report should be so easily dismissed. The report is about the science of electronic cigarettes, it’s not about the politics or about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s just about the science and it’s an extensive review of the evidence that’s out there, done by people who are experts in the area, and signed off by the Royal College of Physicians through its council of forty or so representatives. So, it’s not a small piece of work and I don’t think it can be written off as just the views of one person.”

“Those kind of criticisms will always be made, but this is an emphatic report and it tries to say ‘are these products helping or hindering? What are the risks? And, how important are those risks now and likely to be for the future?’ And the evidence so far, in the UK, is that the risks are small and the benefits are great.”

John Britton on nicotine: “If we were all addicted to nicotine it would be the same as if we were all addicted to caffeine.”

John Britton on the ‘renormalisation’ of smoking: “It’s normalising electronic cigarette use. And so for the many people who are itching for a cigarette, this is seen as an alternative which helps deal with the problem. So that cuts both ways, in this country we see no evidence of that renormalisation argument.”

John Britton on children: “The fact is that young people experiment with things, that’s part of growing up. So, the concern that people might become addicted to electronic cigarettes – and then move on to tobacco – is a real one, and something that everybody is worried by. The evidence that we have in the UK, and to my mind with few exceptions around the world, is that young people experiment with electronic cigarettes once or twice, realise there’s no big deal to it, and stop.”

Finally: “I hope that this report will say these products are helpful, use them.”

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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