Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Greek Health Ministry Will Reportedly Help Improve Cigarette Sales by Banning Electronic Cigarettes

According to an article at ekathimerini.com, the Greek Health Ministry is in the process of banning the sale of electronic cigarettes because they contain nicotine and may pose a health risk. According to the article: "As electronic cigarettes are embraced by smokers trying to kick the habit or to abide by a ban on smoking in public places, the Health Ministry is reportedly planning to forbid the trade and use of the electrical device, noting that it contains nicotine and remains a health risk."

The Rest of the Story

Because electronic cigarettes are embraced by smokers trying to kick the habit, banning these products makes no public health sense. What the Greek Health Ministry is apparently saying is that they would rather smokers continue to smoke the well-proven to be deadly tobacco cigarettes rather than to quit smoking by using a product that is free of tobacco and produces no smoke.

This action will harm both smokers and nonsmokers. Smokers who have successfully quit or cut down significantly using electronic cigarettes will essentially be forced to return to smoking tobacco cigarettes full-time. Nonsmokers who were protected from secondhand smoke because the people they live with switched to electronic cigarettes will again be exposed to secondhand smoke. This is a lose-lose proposition.

There are two entities whose profits will increase as a result of the Greek government's action. First, the tobacco industry will regain sales from smokers who had switched over, in whole or in part, to electronic cigarettes. Second, the pharmaceutical industry will regain sales from smokers who used electronic cigarettes, rather than pharmaceutical products, in their efforts to quit smoking.

The fact that electronic cigarettes contain nicotine is no reason to ban the product. What sense is there in allowing nicotine to be sold when accompanied by over 10,000 other chemicals, including more than 60 carcinogens, but not allowing nicotine to be sold with only a few other chemicals, none of which have been demonstrated to be hazardous at the levels that occur in the vapor produced by electronic cigarettes?

As far as health risks beyond the nicotine, none of yet been identified. Tobacco-specific nitrosamines were found to be present only at trace levels, comparable to the levels in nicotine gum and nicotine patches, and at 1400 times lower a level than present in some cigarettes. Diethylene glycol has so far been identified in only one brand of electronic cigarettes, which I believe is no longer sold. Long-term inhalation of propylene glycol has been hypothesized to be potentially toxic, but preliminary studies have not substantiated this concern. Other than these three specific concerns, there are no other specific health risks that have been identified.

According to Action on Smoking and Health, other countries in which electronic cigarettes have been banned include Brazil, Australia, Canada, Israel, Mexico, and New Zealand.

Ironically, it is the health authorities in these countries which are protecting the profits of tobacco companies at the expense of the public's health.

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