World leading tobacco experts argue that a recently published World Health Organization (WHO)-commissioned review of evidence on e-cigarettes contains important errors, misinterpretations and misrepresentations putting policy-makers and the public in danger of foregoing the potential public health benefits of e-cigarettes.
The authors, writing today in the journal Addiction, analyse the WHO-commissioned Background Paper on E-cigarettes, which looks to have been influential in the recently published WHO report calling for greater regulation of e-cigarettes.
Professor Ann McNeill, lead author from the National Addiction Centre at King's College London, says: "We were surprised by the negativity of the commissioned review, and found it misleading and not an accurate reflection of available evidence. E-cigarettes are new and we certainly don't yet have all the answers as to their long-term health impact, but what we do know is that they are much safer than cigarettes, which kill over 6 million people a year worldwide. Furthermore, the review appears to have informed the policy recommendations published in last week's WHO report on e-cigarettes. Any policies surrounding e-cigarettes must be evidence based and like any product, e-cigarettes should be subjected to some form of regulation. However, the WHO's approach will make it harder to bring these products to market than tobacco products, inhibit innovation and put off smokers from using e-cigarettes, putting us in danger of foregoing the public health benefits these products could have."
The article by McNeill and colleagues takes nine key statements in the WHO-commissioned review and provides an alternative conclusion and a commentary. Highlights include:
McNeill and colleagues criticise the authors of the review for using alarmist language to describe findings and to present opinion as though it were evidence.
Professor Peter Hajek, co-author from the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London, says: "There are currently two products competing for smokers' custom. One, the conventional cigarette, endangers users and bystanders and recruits new customers from among non-smoking children who try it. The other, e-cigarette, is orders of magnitude safer, poses no risk to bystanders, and generates negligible rates of regular use among non-smoking children who try it. The WHO recommendations blur these differences and if followed, will cripple the competitiveness of e-cigarettes and help to maintain the market monopoly of conventional cigarettes."
Dr Jacques le Houezec, co-author and consultant in Public Health and Tobacco dependence in France and Honorary Lecturer at the University of Nottingham, says: "E-cigarette use has been a consumer led revolution, the speed at which these products have developed and evolved shows just how much smokers are ready to adopt harm-reduction products. The use of e-cigarettes could save millions of lives during this century, and have the most important public health impact in the history of tobacco use."
The paper follows an editorial published this week in the British Journal of General Practice by public health experts from UCL who also argue that public health messages about e-cigarettes should be based on facts and not prejudice. They estimate that for every million smokers who switch from tobacco to e-cigarettes, over 6,000 premature deaths would be prevented each year in the UK.
Professor Robert West from UCL, lead author of the editorial, says: "I completely understand concerns about potential risks from this phenomenon but it is vital that public health experts separate opinion from evidence and present the latter as objectively as possible."
For a copy of the Addiction paper, or interviews with its authors, please contact Louise Pratt, PR & Communications Manager, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King's College London, T: +44(0)207 848 5378, M: +44(0)7850 919020, E: firstname.lastname@example.org
For a copy of the BJGP paper, or interviews its authors, please contact Harry Dayantis in the UCL press office, T: +44(0)20 3108 3844, M: +44(0)7747 565056, E: email@example.com
Addiction is a monthly international scientific journal publishing peer-reviewed research reports on alcohol, illicit drugs, tobacco, and gambling as well as editorials and other debate pieces. Owned by the Society for the Study of Addiction, it has been in continuous publication since 1884. Addiction is the number one journal in the 2013 ISI Journal Citation Reports Ranking in the Substance Abuse Category (Social Science Edition). Membership to the Society for the Study of Addiction is £85 and includes an annual subscription to Addiction.
About King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 20 universities in the world (2013/14 QS World University Rankings) and the fourth oldest in England. It is The Sunday Times 'Best University for Graduate Employment 2012/13'. King's has nearly 26,000 students (of whom more than 10,600 are graduate students) from some 140 countries worldwide, and more than 7,000 staff. The College is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.
King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £590 million.
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine, nursing and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar.
King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: http://www.kingshealthpartners.org.
King's fundraising campaign – World questions|King's answers – created to address some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity has reached its £500 million target 18 months ahead of schedule. The College is now aiming to build on this success and raise a further £100 million by the end of 2015, to fund vital research, deliver innovative new treatments and to support scholarships. The campaign's five priority areas are neuroscience and mental health, leadership and society, cancer, global power and children's health. More information about the campaign is available at http://www.kcl.ac.uk/kingsanswers.
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