British Medical Association announces support for e-cigarettes
The British Medical Association released a new and supportive position statement today on e-cigarettes. The BMA was very cautious previously, but has now changed its position to reflect the growing evidence.
The report, E-cigarettes: Balancing risks and opportunities, concludes
‘There are clear potential benefits to their use in reducing the substantial harms associated with smoking, and a growing consensus that they are significantly less harmful than tobacco use’.
'With appropriate regulation, e-cigarettes have the potential to make an important contribution towards the BMA’s ambition to achieve a tobacco-free society, leading to substantially reduced mortality from tobacco-related disease'
The BMA advises a light-touch regulation of e-cigarettes to support smokers in quitting tobacco while minimising the potential risks presented by their use.
Some of the key points made in the report are:
- ‘The short-term health risks associated with e-cigarette use appear minimal’
- ‘The absolute risks of e-cigarette use are [therefore] unknown, but nevertheless should be put in the context of the substantial harm associated with smoking’.
- Long term risk. ‘Although there is consensus that e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking, and that any risks associated with their use are likely to be significantly lower than tobacco, quantifying the precise level of this risk is complex’.
- ‘There is a lack of high-quality research into their effectiveness as a cessation aid, though most reported studies demonstrate a positive relationship between e-cigarette use and smoking cessation’.
- Many individuals who have attempted and failed to quit smoking using other methods have reported finding e-cigarettes useful in quitting or cutting down.
- ‘A regulatory framework for e-cigarettes should seek to minimise [these] risks while maximising their potential to reduce the health burden associated with smoking’.
- ‘Although research in this area remains limited, there is a lack of evidence that exposure to the constituents of e-cigarette vapour poses specific health risks to bystanders’.
- ‘The vast majority of e-cigarette users in the UK are either ex-smokers or current smokers,5 and regular use among ‘never smokers’ remains very low, at less than one per cent’
- ‘Current data on e-cigarette use and smoking does not support concerns that e-cigarettes will promote tobacco use among children and young people’.
- ‘Current data on smoking and e-cigarette use does not support concerns that e-cigarettes are re-normalising cigarette smoking or undermining compliance with smoke-free legislation’.
Advice for doctors
- The BMA supports the recommendation for doctors by the RCGP (Royal College of General Practitioners), ‘who have suggested that clinicians recommend and support the use of e-cigarettes where patients have not succeeded with other options’
Incidentally, the UK Royal College of General Practitioners released a very similar updated position paper in September