A group of fifteen prominent health scientists have recently sent a letter to the European Union’s ruling bodies, criticizing the newly adopted Tobacco Directive and its burdensome effects on electronic cigarettes.
“If wisely regulated, e-cigarettes have the potential to make cigarettes obsolete and save millions of lives worldwide,” the signatories write in the letter that was sent to the European Parliament, European Commission and the Council of Ministers, the three bodies that will decide if the new tobacco directive will actually become law in a few months time. “Excessive regulation, on the contrary, will [perpetuate] the existing levels of smoking related disease, death and health care costs,” they add. The fifteen scientists, who have all done extensive research in the field of electronic cigarettes and their effect on the human body, are worried that the amended would make it significantly more difficult for current tobacco smokers to switch to e-cigs, if it becomes law in its current form, which could happen as soon as April.
One of the fifteen scientists, Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, from the University Hospital in Gasthuisberg in Leuven, Belgium, claims his own research was used to limit the amount of nicotine that can be found in e-liquid, according to the new EU directive. However, he also says that his data was misinterpreted and that a significant number of e-cigarette users need significantly more that just 20 milligrams per milliliter, and would probably return to tobacco cigarettes unless higher doses are allowed. The nicotine output of a real cigarette is roughly 50 mg/ml, which makes the limit set for e-cigarettes less than half that.
The 20 mg/ml nicotine restriction in the new directive was set based on outdated information and an exaggerations regarding the toxicity of nicotine, the scientists say. The EU’s assumption that the lethal dose of nicotine is 60 milligrams is based on self-experiments found in a book dating back to 1856 and is incorrect. “This is not the case, and people have ingested doses 60 times higher, which only led to nausea and vomiting,” says the scientists’ letter. “Poisoning from tobacco, nicotine replacement medications or e-cigarette liquid is extremely rare, and there is no risk of overdosing through inhalation.”
Another issue the fifteen scientists have with the new tobacco directive includes passages that imply there is consistent scientific evidence that e-cigarette use leads to nicotine addiction and in turn to smoking real cigarettes. “Existing data do not suggest that electronic cigarettes are having any such effects,” their letter writes, adding that the real evidence actually suggests e-cigarettes actually help smokers of all ages quit smoking or at least reduce the number of cigarettes smoked.
Another mistake included in the EU’s proposed law is the claim that e-cigarettes deliver nicotine “consistently”, which the scientists dismiss as nonsensical, as vapers dictate for themselves how much nicotine they breath in.
Clive Bates, former director of UK public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), and a fervent supporter of electronic cigarettes as a means of tobacco harm reduction believes the current tobacco directive should be further amended to ease restrictions set for e-cigarettes, or for electronic cigarettes to be completely excluded and have regulations drafted separately. “Otherwise, we’ll end up with a dog’s breakfast that will set the direction of e-cigarette legislation for decades,” he told New Scientist. Unfortunately time is running short of e-cigarette users in Europe, as the current tobacco directive will be read in the European Parliament in March, and, if passed, could be made law by the Council of Ministers a month later.
Chris Bullen, a professor at the University of Auckland, and one of the fifteen signatories of this letter, said all he and his colleagues want is fair treatment for electronic cigarettes: “My main issue with the directive is that it is unbalanced in its treatment of e-cigarettes compared to tobacco products. Proportionate regulation is what’s needed, sufficient to give consumers confidence in the quality, reliability and safety of e-cigarettes.” Bullen headed the recent medical trial that found electronic cigarettes are at least as effective as nicotine patches in helping smokers quit.