Two British tobacco policy experts have called on Singapore’s Minister for Health to put on hold its recently-announced bans on electronic cigarettes and low-risk tobacco products. They have called for a policy rethink, starting with a thorough review of the evidence.
In a detailed letter to the minister, Gan Kim Yong, the two veterans of the European and international struggle against tobacco-related disease argue that banning low risk alternatives to smoking would be unscientific, unethical and harmful to health – and effectively a protection of the cigarette trade at the expense of the health of smokers.
They have called on Singapore to reassert its world leadership in tobacco control by showing that it can regulate these products in a way that exploits their huge potential to reduce harm while minimising any risks. They say that, by achieving world best practice in regulating these products, Singapore could position itself in the forefront of bringing forward the ‘global endgame’ of the disease and death caused by smoking. Such a development would be important given the influence Singapore had on many countries.
“It makes no sense to ban these very low risk alternatives to smoking while leaving cigarettes freely available on the market,” said Professor Gerry Stimson of Imperial College London. “It means that people who can’t or won’t quit using nicotine will carry on smoking, get sick and probably die from it.”
People would continue to use nicotine whether others liked it or not, Stimson said, but the risk of cancer and respiratory and cardiovascular disease from products delivering nicotine could be virtually eliminated if nicotine were taken with products that did not create toxic smoke and tar. Unfortunately it was these products that were being banned in Singapore.
Meanwhile, Clive Bates, a longstanding tobacco control campaigner, said these products had the potential to make cigarettes and smoking obsolete by 2040 and that there was no case to ban them now. “If we want to eradicate the death and disease caused by tobacco then allowing users to switch to an alternative nicotine product that [is] at least 95 percent lower risk is a really good policy” he said.
“Singapore has always been a leader in tobacco control but we think it’s taking a wrong turn by banning these products. A far better strategy is to use carefully designed regulation to encourage them to gradually destroy the cigarette trade and save thousands of lives.
“Prohibition of low risk alternative products doesn’t mean users quit, it means they carry on smoking.”