Response to Irish Cancer Society position paper

The IVVA would like to take this opportunity to address the position paper, published by the Irish Cancer Society on their website.

Whilst we acknowledge the Irish Cancer Society’s position in requesting the Department of Health to regulate vaping products as medicines, and while we would disagree on that point, the IVVA think it’s vitally important that some of the mis-information that this position paper presents to the Irish public be addressed.

According to the data presented by Amárach Research on behalf of the Irish Cancer Society, the figures which date from July 2014 clearly show that out of the respondents, 0% of non smokers surveyed currently use electronic cigarettes. Yet despite this, there seems to be a pervasive notion that we should fear this product.

We shouldn’t.

Electronic cigarettes are a tool for current adult smokers to transition themselves away from the harms of smoking tobacco. Nothing more, nothing less.

”The research has also shown that upwards of one third of current e-cigarette users continue to smoke tobacco cigarettes simultaneously.”

What the IVVA feel is a glaring omission in this point is that it doesn’t seem to include the timescales that respondents have been using electronic cigarettes.

What every electronic cigarette user will acknowledge is that there is usually a ‘transition period’ whereby some of the tobacco cigarettes that would usually be smoked throughout the day are replaced by the use of an electronic cigarette. As time continues those who successfully ‘make the switch’ find themselves smoking less and less, but this time scale varies from person to person.

Taking a response from a smoker during this transition period, when they are actively partaking in tobacco harm reduction and making it sound like they are doing themselves more harm, is not only misleading, it serves no purpose.

”Compared to smoking tobacco, e-cigarettes are deemed to be safer; however, there is no research into the long-term effects of their usage. The Irish Cancer Society cannot recommend the use of e-cigarettes without guarantees of their long-term safety.”

Frankly, this is just puzzling. We would wonder how the long term safety of any new disruptive technology can be deemed safe long term, unless it is used long term.

In reality, electronic cigarettes have been around for 11 years now, with the surge in use in Ireland happening around 2009/2010. In worldwide terms, no serious safety concerns have emerged in scientific data that would warrant the product being out rightly ‘banned’, so it seems rather strange that the Irish Cancer Society would make this ideological leap. Especially considering that some of the UK’s NHS-run ‘Stop Smoking Services’ are now taking the view that electronic cigarettes have a definite role in their programs.

”There have been recent media reports in Ireland and the UK of devices exploding
and of an increase in incidences of nicotine poisoning caused by e-cigarettes. In Ireland, there were as many incidents of nicotine poisoning in the first three months of 2014 as in the whole of 2013. 11 of these cases involved children less than six years of age. All were allegedly caused by the ingestion of liquid for e-cigarettes.”

As we have previously addressed on our blog post about battery safety, in all the media reports that have reported exploding where a fire officer investigation has taken place, the problem is not with the devices themselves, but with the improper use of battery charges.

The IVVA has a clear policy in our code of conduct on only supplying batteries with the correct safety marks, the proper advising of consumers not to mix brands of batteries and chargers, and the correct way to charge various types of batteries. For the Irish Cancer Society to confuse however, could be construed as merely fear-mongering. One would not expect calls for tight restrictions on mobile phones, for example, which also use lithium ion batteries simply because the misuse of chargers may cause batteries to fail.

As regards the claims of nicotine poisoning, the main thing of note is the word ”allegedly”.

In looking at the 2013 reports published by the National Poisons Information Centre, the first thing that is of note is that the calls to the centre don’t seem to be broken down into actual cases of harm versus a call inquiring for more information.

For example, if a parent were to leave an electronic cigarette on their coffee table, and found their child had picked it up, decided to call the poison information centre to ask if the child might be in any danger, there is the chance that the national poison centre included that as a call reporting an incident regarding electronic cigarettes.

More calls were made to the centre in relation to household cleaners, and the largest number of concern was over the counter medications such as paracetamol. Common sense would dictate that all such things be kept out of the reach of children to avoid accidental ingestion, and again the IVVA have written into our code of conduct that consumers are properly advised of the correct and safe storage of vaping products.

”The Irish Cancer Society wants to ensure marketing of e-cigarettes ‘denormalises’ smoking rather than renormalise it.”

This is a very popular stance from bodies that would rather express a fear, than actually back it up with data. On the face of it, it seems an understandable fear, but it’s merely an ideological one.

The increase in the use of a reduced harm alternative cannot conceivably result in an increased use of the more harmful product it replaces – it merely renormalises harm reduction.

There is no current evidence that electronic cigarettes renormalises smoking tobacco cigarettes, in exactly the same way as there is no current evidence that drinking water renormalises the drinking of vodka.

To conflate two such very dis-similar products in this manner is misleading.

”The Irish Cancer Society believes the workplace smoking ban should not be undermined and therefore supports employers who keep their workplaces free of e-cigarette use.”

Another puzzling one. One may be forgiven for thinking that the Irish Cancer Society know so little about the product, that they really do think that electronic cigarettes are exactly the same as smoking tobacco. We’re not sure how clearer we can state this, but electronic cigarettes contain no burning plant material, they do not contain tobacco, they do not produce smoke, because vaping is not smoking.

In closing, the IVVA do welcome regulation for this industry, but it needs to be the right regulation; based on fact and reality. And the reality is that vaping products are a harm reduction tool being used by thousands of Irish smokers, many of whom have not succeeded by any other means. We need to focus on the here and now facts, not mislead the public by inducing unnecessary fear.