By now we are all aware of electronic cigarettes.
They have developed from an original design that looks like a traditional cigarette to a new generation of devices that resemble anything from a tin whistle to Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver.
Now another new-look nicotine delivery device is heading our way – and this one is licensed as a medicine.
The Voke nicotine inhaler, says its manufacturers, involves no heat or combustion, and so produces no ash or smoke. Unlike an e-cigarette, it doesn’t need a battery to produce a hit of nicotine. It’s activated simply by the user inhaling.
ASH Scotland has always said that we would prefer that electronic cigarettes and other nicotine delivery systems should be licensed as medicines, to ensure quality and standards and control their advertising and promotion. Medicines regulation is a strong and appropriate way of organising the sale of addictive products.
So we welcome the fact that the first medicines licence for a novel nicotine delivery device has been awarded to Voke by the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency).
The harm caused by tobacco use is so great that we need to explore all the available options for supporting people to quit smoking. We know that the majority of smokers want to quit and hope that novel nicotine devices prove to be a useful addition to the options available to them.
However, a note of caution must be struck. Nicoventures, the company behind Voke, is owned by British American Tobacco.
We should treat Voke on its own merits, separately from the tobacco interests behind it. Yet we must remain alert to the major part played in the market by tobacco companies, which are buying up much of the e-cigarette market.
The tobacco industry long ago decided to put profits before the health and well-being of their customers. British American Tobacco’s professed interest in harm reduction will be a sham for as long as the company continues to produce and actively promote millions of cigarettes which they know cause cancer, heart disease, stroke, dementia and arthritis amongst their customers.
Until that attitude changes and they stop opposing legitimate health measures, they should retain their pariah status, excluded from decision-making on public health and clearly identified as a major part of the problem.
Like Voke’s manufacturers, e-cigarette makers can also apply for their products to be licensed as medicines – and we hope they do.
Regulation is needed to ensure standards of quality and reliability and to require details of ingredients but also to place firm restrictions on the marketing, promotions and sponsorship of products that provide nicotine – a highly-addictive substance.