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IEA Discussion Paper Released

Solicitor Victoria Hewson and IEA head of lifestyle economics Chris Snowdon have released a discussion paper on new nicotine products and the innovation principle

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Practising solicitor Victoria Hewson and head of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs Chris Snowdon have released a discussion paper on new nicotine products and the innovation principle. They argue that “fear of adverse consequences can lead to excessive emphasis on risk avoidance, leading to regulation that holds back beneficial innovation.”

Hewson and Snowdon write: “In the last twenty years, a range of non-combustible nicotine products have become popular alternatives to cigarettes for millions of smokers. They include e-cigarettes (vapes) and heated tobacco products. A traditional smokeless tobacco product (STP) called snus has proved successful in parts of Scandinavia where smoking rates are now among the lowest in the world. Nicotine pouches, which are products similar to snus containing no tobacco, have been launched in the UK and elsewhere in recent years.”

The pair point out that all of these products are significantly safer than smoking tobacco products but some in public health citing the precautionary principle refuse to accept them as viable alternatives.

It is certainly plausible that reduced-risk nicotine products ‘may have a dangerous effect’. Their advocates do not claim that they are ‘safe’ (indeed, no product is 100 per cent ‘safe’ in the sense of having no potential to cause harm). Nicotine itself does not cause cancer, but it raises blood pressure in a similar way to caffeine (Smits et al. 1993) and this could cause health problems in extreme cases. E-cigarettes require nicotine, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin to be inhaled into the lungs which could lead to inflammation or other disorders.”

So, with a potential risk attached to alternative novel nicotine products, what is the true value of them?

We already know a great deal about the toxicology of snus and e-cigarettes, in particular, and we have good evidence of their efficacy in smoking cessation. Snus has been used in Scandinavia for over two centuries and the weight of epidemiological evidence over several decades indicates that it does not cause cancer or any other serious disease (GBD 2016 Risk Factors Collaborators 2017). Cancer warnings were removed from snus products in Sweden in 2001, and there is now so much evidence that snus is low risk and helps smokers quit cigarettes that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted its first ever modified risk orders to eight Swedish snus products in 2019, allowing them to be marketed as safer than cigarettes.”

Their discussion paper argues eloquently for an innovation principle to supersede the precautionary principle.

An innovation principle could help ensure that policy in this area does not revert to over-regulating products, and that the UK can continue to set an example and produce useful data in tobacco harm reduction for the rest of the world.”

The full pdf can be downloaded for free from the link below.


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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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