Vaping has been high on the European Union’s agenda the last few months, with the European Parliament finalising its version of Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan. However, vaping can be part of the solution and save many lives, argues Bernd Mayer, professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Graz in Austria
Vaping is a hot topic in the EU right now, with Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan coming up. So how should the EU treat vaping?
A key point to understand is that vaping is not smoking. Treating the two the same would be a mistake. It is scientifically established that vaping is less harmful than smoking. Against the background of 700,000 deaths per year due to smoking-induced illnesses, and with an alternative which Public Health England states is at least 95% less harmful, the EU must endorse vaping as a harm reduction method for smokers.
Unlike traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes do not emit smoke, and the emission of toxic combustion products is reduced by 99%. Because of this, the lifetime risk of cancer for vapers is hundreds to thousands of times lower than for smokers. Studies also show that the cardiovascular and pulmonary function in smokers who switch to vaping improves drastically. Therefore, vaping is not associated with a clinically relevant serious health risk and public health gains when smokers switch to vaping.
Despite all this evidence, some reports are sceptical of vaping, such as the European Commission’s recent SCHEER report
The SCHEER report is far from being an objective research paper. Although the judgment of relative risks is key to the harm reduction approach, the report was set up in a way that no comparison be made between vaping and smoking. This request resulted in a pointless paper, with little scientific value, completely ignorant (purposefully or not) of the concept of harm reduction. Unfortunately, some policymakers are using this report as an instrument to argue for unjustifiably harsh regulation of vaping.
“Public health has transformed its justified efforts to reduce smoking rates into an unjustified war on nicotine in the last decade”
Yet, despite so much research, vaping remains very controversial in a lot of countries. Why is that?
There are indeed severe misunderstandings in the general public about vaping and its fundamental differences from smoking. The misconceptions are manifold, but the false perception of nicotine is undoubtedly a particularly troubling example of high relevance. In 1976, Prof. Michael Russell, a pioneer in the study of tobacco dependence and the development of quitting agents, stated that “People smoke for nicotine, but they die from the tar”. Nonetheless, public health has transformed its justified efforts to reduce smoking rates into an unjustified war on nicotine in the last decade.
Nicotine containing drugs like nicotine patches or nicotine inhalers are freely available over the counter and are unreservedly recommended to smokers by health authorities. However, the same authorities regularly issue warnings from nicotine in e-cigarettes. They suddenly declare this benign recreational drug, with properties similar to caffeine, as a potent toxic and addictive drug. It appears that nicotine undergoes a mysterious transformation from a harmless remedy into a deadly toxin when added to the liquids of e-cigarettes.
Originally published here.