E-Cigarettes: A Form of Harm Reduction?

harm-reductionThe battle of e-cigarettes continues as medical experts discuss the concept of “harm reduction.” While making claims that e-cigarettes are a form of harm reduction – when compared to traditional cigarettes, the reality is that nicotine is still highly addictive and digital cigarettes are more popular among younger age groups than any other source of nicotine. A new investigation probes the theory of harm reduction with regard to e-cigarettes, ScienceDaily reports.

Big Tobacco’s Point of View

With declining tobacco sales, it was only a matter of time before the tobacco industry dove head first into the business of ‘vaping.’ The industry claims that e-cigarettes are a form of harm reduction and there are a number of people who support this view. Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the UK charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), says there is nothing to support the idea that e-cigarettes are a gateway into smoking for young people, according to the article.

“The risk is that smokers who could potentially use these as an alternative to smoking are being discouraged, and that’s not a good thing,” argues Arnott.

Health Experts Are Wary

A number of health experts believe that the tobacco industry’s use of the words harm reduction is dangerous. The idea that big tobacco is now a friend of the health care is a slippery slope; it wasn’t that long ago when doctors went on record claiming that Camel cigarettes were a wise decision. Simon Capewell, professor of public health and policy at Liverpool University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society says that e-cigarettes are being used by tobacco companies “as a trojan horse to get inside ministries of health. They are saying ‘This is all about harm minimisation, we’re part of the solution, we’re no longer the problem.'”

Capewell is not alone, others argue that after years of plummeting tobacco sales, e-cigarettes work against anti-smoking efforts – glamorizing and renormalizing smoking.

The World Health Organization (WHO)

There is not a whole lot of research to support or condemn e-cigarettes and the division among experts isn’t making it easier. Nicotine science and public health policy specialists wrote to WHO director general, Margaret Chan, insisting that supporting the concept of harm reduction was “part of the solution, not part of the problem.” The counter argument came quickly, 129 opposing experts warned WHO and other public bodies not to “buy into the tobacco industry’s well-documented strategy of presenting itself as a partner.”

“I’m no apologist for or friend of the tobacco industry,” said epidemiologist John Britton, head of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, Britton told BMJ, if alternative methods of delivering nicotine are developed, then “it’s inconceivable that tobacco companies will not get involved and seek to exploit it, and that’s a risk that has to be managed.”

The investigation was published in BMJ.


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