Health advocates urge NHMRC review of research on e-cigarettes
A group of leading Australian health experts is urging the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) to conduct a thorough and up-to-date review of the latest science relevant to e-cigarettes.
They say the latest evidence suggests that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than smoking and could lead to substantial improvement in public health.
Seventy Australian academics, researchers and clinicians with a special interest in public health, tobacco control and drug and alcohol treatment are co-signatories to the letter which calls on the NHMRC to commission an open and comprehensive review of the evidence.
Associate Professor Colin Mendelsohn from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales said he hoped a new review would take a harm reduction perspective. “E-cigarettes are being used by smokers and ex-smokers as a less harmful alternative to an existing consumer product - combustible tobacco - that prematurely kills up to two thirds of its long-term users.1
“The science on e-cigarettes has evolved substantially since the NHMRC did its previous review,2 so it is time to look at what the latest research tells us about their potential for reducing tobacco-related death and disease in Australia” said Professor Mendelsohn.
Dr Alex Wodak, President of the Australian Drug Law Reform Foundation, said it was timely to commission a new review. “Increasing the quit rate is particularly important now as Australia’s smoking rate has not declined significantly over the last 3 years for the first time in decades, according to the National Drug Strategy Household Surveys (2013-2016)” he said.3, 4
“E-cigarettes appear to be contributing to the faster decline in smoking rates in other countries where they are freely available.5
The potential benefit of e-cigarettes was confirmed with the release of a study in Tobacco Control this week calculating that their widespread uptake by smokers could prevent 6.6 million premature smoking-related deaths in the US over 10 years, after allowing for any risks from vaping.6
“In Australia, this represents preventing about half a million premature smoking-related deaths in long-term smokers” Professor Mendelsohn said.
“These calculations support the role of e-cigarettes in Australia as a valuable strategy to kick start the decline in smoking again. The potential benefits to public health are huge” he said.
1. Banks E, Joshy G, Weber MF et al. Tobacco smoking and all-cause mortality in a large Australian cohort study: findings from a mature epidemic with current low smoking prevalence. BMC Med. 2015;13:38
2. National Health and Medical Research Council. CEO Statement: Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigarettes). 2017. Available at https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/file/publications/17072_nhmrc_-_electronic_cigarettes-web_final.pdf
3. National Drug Strategy Household Survey detailed report 2013. Drug statistics series no. 28. Cat. no. PHE 183. Canberra: AIHW. Available at http://www.aihw.gov.au/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=60129549848 Accessed 1 October 2017
4. National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS) 2016: detailed findings. Drug Statistics series no. 31. Cat. no. PHE 214. Canberra: AIHW. Available at https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/15db8c15-7062-4cde-bfa4-3c2079f30af3/21028.pdf.aspx?inline=true Accessed 1 October 2017
5. Zhu SH, Zhuang YL, Wong S, Cummins SE, Tedeschi GJ. E-cigarette use and associated changes in population smoking cessation: evidence from US current population surveys. BMJ. 2017;358:j3262
6. Levy DT, Borland R, Lindblom EN et al. Potential deaths averted in USA by replacing cigarettes with e-cigarettes. Tobacco Control. 2017 Available at http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/early/2017/08/30/tobaccocontrol-2017-053759
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