Helen Martin: Smoke out the critics of e-cigs

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WHEN I wrote a short piece about e-cigs and vapourisers last week, I wasn’t aware that the Welsh Assembly was about to launch a proposal to ban them.

Now I wonder why they wouldn’t want a “safe” cigarette that prevents five million deaths a year, improves the nation’s fitness, reduces the levels of heart attacks, cancer and strokes and protects children from passive smoking.

Welsh ministers and groups within the BMA claim e-cigs are a “gateway” to smoking and “normalise” it. Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, wants them regulated as a medicine. Yet senior members of the Royal College of Physicians say five million lives a year could be saved globally if smokers switched. And Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) says there is little evidence they are a gateway to fags, they should not be included in smoke-free laws, and they cause little or no harm to non-users.

If, as a Scottish non-smoker, you feel this has nothing whatsoever to do with you (apart from smokers being a “drain” on the NHS), it may be worth considering that the Scottish Parliament might follow Wales. Then consider that every average 20-a-day smoker will be paying between £28 and £35 in extra tax every week. Double that for a hardened 40-a-day man.

Because tobacco tax goes into the general revenue pot it is difficult to find out exactly how much that adds up to and what it pays for, but at least a couple of estimates suggest the total tax collected from tobacco could be roughly equal to the total cost of the NHS.

Now you can see how complicated this is. If everyone stops smoking tobacco, the tax will have to be raised somewhere else. E-cigs and vapourisers do not contain tobacco. They contain nicotine, from the same sources as patches, chewing gum and lozenges prescribed on the NHS as NRTs, or nicotine replacement therapies, but suspended in a solution which can be inhaled and exhaled as harmless, odourless vapour rather than toxic smoke. As nicotine is a similar chemical to caffeine with similar effects, licensing nicotine as a medicine – and taxing it as one – makes about as much sense as applying the same to a jar of Nescafe.

What’s more, because e-cigs and vapourisers were developed by smokers, and still involve something to hold, inhaling and exhaling and with no major lifestyle changes, they have been extraordinarily successful.

“Medical” NRTs are not much better than going cold turkey, with a long-term success rate beyond a year of around only seven per cent. Tom Pruen, chief scientific officer and spokesman for the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association is an analytical chemist who switched from fags to “vaping” in 2009. He says: “There is no other ‘medicine’ that would be licensed with a 93 per cent failure rate.” He says front-line health workers such as GPs and nurses are supportive of e-cigs. He is also convinced that behind the calls for bans, taxing, licensing and regulation from some medics and politicians are anti-smoking “ideologies” rather than science, and a concern about how to claw back the tax revenue that will be lost if smokers quit.

Whether you believe him or not – and as a recent convert to vaping, I do – it is now time for the government to put their money where their mouth is, end the hypocrisy and desist from “pimping” the tobacco industry to get their cut of the deadly action. What’s the priority, health and stopping smoking, or “dirty tax” for the Treasury?

WHAT A WASTE

CAKE smashing: a new Edinburgh craze in which birthday babies smash up an elaborately iced cake and chuck it about yielding “cute” photographs. A greedy waste of food that teaches kids the wrong lessons.

Disgusting.

We’re the silly ones, not RBS

RBS has announced the closure of 44 branches because it says it is “what our customers want” and that it will instead invest in online and telephone banking. Not too long ago it closed our local branch in Marchmont using the same excuses – that fewer people were using it and more and more were banking online.

It’s all a load of Goodwins of course (Goodwins being a word I have invented for illogical incompetency with little veracity). There were folk queueing out the door every day at our branch including students, pensioners, business owners, folk from the big houses, folk from wee houses, to the extent that it once took 40 minutes to be served.

RBS doesn’t want the expense of providing a service, even if it is the last bank in town. It doesn’t want to pay for the premises, for people to do the work because customers can do it online for themselves. It doesn’t want to be responsible for mis-payments, far better to let the customer key things in and make the mistakes. It doesn’t want to pay interest on our savings, but it does want us to pay bank charges.

The one thing I can say in its favour is, it is not silly. We are for giving it our business and our cash.