MHRA stops threat to cigarette sales in Britain

The net has been buzzing with the release of this letter from trading standards officer Helen Wales informing that the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulation Agency (MHRA) is near the completion of its consultation and expects to apply a 21 day period for regulatory compliance for e-cigarettes in Britain after which if they have not furnished the data and fees to make the cut they will be banned.

There is good reason for some sort of standards for any widely used product. This is just a very bad way of going about it.

If cigarettes did not exist and e-cigarettes were some unique nicotine delivery device then this approach would not be entirely out of sorts. It would still be unusually demanding in its short time frame for compliance but the worry would center more around commercial concerns than concerns of health.

However we have been repeatedly reminded by national authorities that too many people are dying from smoking, implying that these same authorities think this is not a good thing, and also implying that they would support actions that would bring down those mortality figures.

The MHRA supposedly works in the interest of the people. It has been estimated that 400,000 of those people are using e-cigarettes. Polls of vapers have found that 1. almost every one if not all of them are ex-smokers 2. almost all of them have tried and failed at quitting using other methods 3. most of them have been able to remain cigarette free and 4. most of them believe that were e-cigarettes removed from the market they would find themselves smoking again.

No matter how politically bent or misguided the MHRA is, they no doubt know all this. They know that these people have successfully switched away from smoking but that they might return. Even if the only study they like to cite is the one negative and misleading FDA study, that every other study has shown e-cigarettes to be vastly safer than smoking. They know all this, and they know that even the FDA study showed that e-cigarettes were much safer than smoking.

So the message comes down to that they would prefer that people smoke than use e-cigarettes. A conspiracy theorist might even think that there has been a collusion between Big Tobacco and Big Pharma to head off this threat and restore the lost customers to their previous cycle of smoking and every now and then purchasing failure prone cessation therapies. What it boils down is a resounding Let them eat cake!

This is a horrible and tragic betrayal of the public trust from an agency that rubs neck and shoulders with others who love to in every tobacco related press release or report make sure to include some stats about how many people are die or will die from smoking. It is also a story you probably won’t see in the New York Times and other media.

If the MHRA follows the track it says it will, it will not generate the horrific pictures that reports from civil wars or disasters do, but the body count will be higher; it will just take longer. (And though the MHRA might not have quite the high profile the FDA does, it could have provided an international example of a common sense response to a long existing health concern, saved thousands of lives in the bargain and encouraged others to do the same but now there is every likelihood that this de facto ban will encourage other countries’ agencies to condemn e-smokers as well).

We had a real chance of something momentous happening – a new solution that people naturally gravitated to without any governmental push and now the only government involvement is the one stopping smokers from making the healthy switch.

(Back in April at the International Harm Reduction Association conference I was asked by a friend who was working in the British e-cigarette industry if I thought they would end up being banned in that country and at the time I said though I hoped terribly that I would be wrong, I suspected given the way tobacco related issues tend to turn out, that they would end up banned. I suppose there is still the slightest chance this ban will not go through and I do hope that even now on the eleventh hour I will end up being wrong.)

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Comments

  • rothenbj  On August 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    The MHRA decision has restored my faith in the entire Health institution- they have no interest in health and it is truly about the money. From WHO to the MHRA to the FDA and every other Administration that oversees the industry, to all of Big Pharma and especially to the ?non-profit?”health” associations that live off Big Tobacco money (you know, cigarette smoker money) and Gigantic Pharma, they are all part of the great money trail in the sky.

    Let them eat cake is appropriate. Who cares about the smoker that they say they want to save. First the EU bans Swedish snus, the well documented, 98% safer alternative to cigarettes, now shut down the E-cig business. We can’t have anything that actually accomplishes the stated goal of these mighty organizations. Sure, hundreds of thousands of people will die in just the US and UK alone, but not a major concern. We have the kids that they all so market for to take the place of the dead, all in the name of health.

    Such perfect symmetry, smoke for awhile, try to quit using the ineffective, overpriced NRT products, then return to cigarettes, as sure as the the swallows return to capistrano. It’s good for BT, good for GP, good for the governments and especially good for ?non-profit?”health” associations.

    I wouldn’t want to leave a product that has been used by millions over the last 6 years with no adverse health effects on the market to cut into that group’s profits, just isn’t ethical.

  • Paul  On August 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm

    BTW a little update. I have received some word from UK sources that they still feel optimistic about the future and that in fact this letter jumping the gun might actually make the ban less likely. I hope so. Though tempted to remove my post and wait til the cards really do fall, at the risk of looking overly pessimistic, I will leave it as hopefully an artifact of false fears before the fact.

    • rothenbj  On August 1, 2010 at 3:45 pm

      Hopefully you’re correct.

  • Kate  On August 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    I think it’s a great post Paul and you should let it stay as a tribute to the mindset of the people who run our lives.

    Personally, I don’t know whether to be optimistic or not but I know I’m not going to stop complaining about the stupidity of the tobacco control system/scam.

  • Elaine Keller  On August 1, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    I took the survey from the Scottish TC folks. I selected options indicating that I do not support some of the draconian measures they want to implement. Where there were spots for comments, I advised urging smokers to switch to electronic cigarettes.

    In my closing comment I mentioned that when the focus is on control and enFORCEment, people get hurt along the way. I advised them to think about why people smoke–many do so to control symptoms of depression and cognitive impairment. Finally, I advised them to encourage smokers to switch to snus or electronic cigarettes which reduces smoking-related disease by 99% and eliminates the SHS concerns. (I’m sure they be delighted at the advice I gave them.)

    http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/ASH_Scotland_Tobacco_Control_Strategy_Consultation

    I’m having trouble following why they believe that limiting the number of stores that sell tobacco will keep kids from smoking. I don’t know any smoker or former smoker who went to the store to get their first cigarette. They had their first one handed to them by a friend.

    Oh, they also want to get rid of the “positive image” of smoking that they say is seen on television, movies, magazines, and in ads. Things must be a lot different in Scotland than in the U.S.

  • Paul  On August 1, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Not sure this quite fits here but re stores and kids, you are quite right. Recent studies have shown what we all knew….children get most of their tobacco from social sources (friends, family members) or steal them because most retailers do not sell to kids (retailers care about kids too….even those evil tobacco salespeople). So yes, limiting how many stores there all will probably inconvenience adult smokers but not affect the child market much.

    As to that positive image of smoking…I still contend that most images of smoking in the movies and television are not flattering. They might reinforce the rebellion aspect of smoking but even if that is an effect it does not outweigh the basic idea of stories having some truth to them (people smoke (and do drugs, and have sex, etc) now and in the past). We are not yet North Korea or Singapore.

  • Paul  On August 2, 2010 at 9:22 am

    And the latest development here has Wales retracting/rewording her position:
    http://ukvapers.com/topic/1675-it-looks-like-the-consultation-decision-has-been-made/page__st__80__p__32070#entry32070

  • Dave Atherton  On August 2, 2010 at 11:05 am

    @Kate and Paul

    My instinct is fear the worse. Kate you wrote on ASH’s wall 😉 28th June at 13.46 about E-cigs and ASH’s reply was:

    “We have not called for the prohibition of e-cigarettes (since this is what we are talking about here). We have however called for these products to be licensed to ensure that they are produced to recognised standards and to enable consumers to know that these products are safe to use (ie delivering the amount of nicotine needed/announced and not other, potential dangerous, substances).”

    Same result as that woman from Trading Standards stated. The MHRA, Department Of Health, ASH and all the UK state funded fake charities know each other. There is more than a chance that there was a stich up behind the scenes like the smoke ban.

    Here is David Simpson the then Head Of ASH being hauled over the coals by Sir Hugh Rossi for going behind the UK’s Parliament’s back in public. Not pretty.

  • Kate  On August 3, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    That’s the thing, Dave, they want medicalisation and refuse to acknowledge that destroys or bans the product in real life. I sometimes wonder if I’m on the same planet as the ASH folks, especially when they stick their fingers in their ears and go ‘la, la, la, I can’t hear you’.

    The TS letter might bring a few folks down to earth, they could be in denial that the free market actually has to be left free and open.

  • Tony  On August 3, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    E-cigarettes use the same nicotine, with about the same level of trace contaminants as FDA approved NRT products. There are a large number of studies and reviews that demonstrate the safety of E-cigarettes in comparison with pharmaceutical NRT products and conventional cigarettes (Attachments B6a-j).

  • John  On August 5, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    e-cigs are just another way the FDA to get more money for the government.

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