Science and Technology Committee Hear From ‘Experts’ On Heat Not Burn – Nicotine and The Effects Of Vaping On Health
UK MPs met with representatives of Big Tobacco companies and health experts last week to gather more evidence on e-cigarettes and Heat Not Burn Products.
The Science and Technology Committee is currently looking into all things vaping and HNB and the impact they may have on public health – including their effectiveness as smoking cessation tools – health risks [if any] – financial implications and what if any regulations need tightening or removing completely.
The main focus for this sitting was on the panel of scientists from Big Tobacco who it had to be said were extremely professional – even slick at times – but showed their true colours with an outrageous attack on zero nicotine e-liquids – more on that later.
This session was once again split into two parts with first up representatives from Big Tobacco – I have listed the HNB and e-cigarette brands they are associated with:
- Dr Ian Jones, Vice-President, Reduced-Risk Products, Japan Tobacco International – Logic Pro
- Dr Chris Proctor, Chief Scientific Officer, British American Tobacco – Vype
- Dr Moira Gilchrist, Vice-President, Scientific and Public Communications, Philip Morris Limited – iQOS
- Dr Grant O’Connell, Regulatory and Scientific Affairs, Fontem Ventures – Blu
This was the public face of Big Tobacco though to be fair they are all respected scientists in their fields.
Despite all of them saying quite strongly they were not part of the marketing team they came across as gentle almost cuddly ‘trust me I’m a scientist’ who I have no doubt have been well schooled in public presentation.
Make Sure You Mention The Brand…
However every single one of them made sure their particular brand was mentioned at every opportunity…and were particularly anti zero nicotine e-liquids and called for them and short-fills to be included in current and future TPD regulations – or whatever we call it when we leave the EU…
I shall explain why they are so anti short-fills later – and I don’t think it’s about any health concerns… 😉
It was interesting for instance that Dr Moira Gilchrist made it very clear she had no marketing background – yet as a vice president of the ‘public communications’ department that could be taken with a pinch of salt – PR and marketing has a fag paper thickness between them IMHO.
Anyway the fabulous five were quizzed – quite gently I might add – on many aspects of e-cigarettes and HNB products including how BIG Tobacco stood on the Public Health England claim that vaping [not HNB] was 95% safer than smoking.
Dr Proctor told the committee:
It is now well acknowledged that there is a risk continuum, where cigarette smoking is by far the most risky tobacco and nicotine product, and nicotine replacement therapy is the least risky…
With e-cigarettes, we are really at educated conjecture, because we do not have that epidemiology.
You cannot pinpoint with accuracy exactly where they should sit, but they have far fewer toxic emissions than cigarette smoke. Most of the things that are formed in cigarette smoke that are known to be harmful chemicals are absent in e-cigarettes, but some chemicals are still there.
The data that we have are pretty much consistent with where Public Health England is coming down on this.
Given they’re now in the market…they would say that…
Media Scare Stories Stopping Smokers Switch
Once again the mainstream media came under fire with ‘misreporting’ of scientific studies into vaping – or sexing up as I call it.
It was suggested the current plateau of smokers switching to vaping was due to these crazy scare stories but also lumping in e-cigarettes with tobacco products – the TPD – was another reason suggested by Dr O’Connell.
Darren Jones MP response to that had me sighing when he asked if the public really knew anything about TPD – remember folks we’re all idiot children who know nothing lol.
Dr O’Connell’s reply was excellent:
[the TPD]…a number of the restrictions that apply to conventional cigarettes also apply to e-vapour products.
The message that that sends is that they are one of a kind, from the regulatory perspective.
The misreporting of scientific studies, and their subsequent presentation in the media, is also a serious contributor to this.
That is having a measurable impact on consumer confidence, which urgently needs to be addressed.
Dr Proctor was spot on when he called for a re-think of the TPD especially when it comes to nicotine levels adding:
The TPD also sets some standards both for the volume of a tank that you can use and for the amount of nicotine that you can use in it.
Those should probably be looked at again.
They were set on a precautionary basis, quite quickly, as those laws were coming in, so it would probably be worth looking at them again.
Can’t argue with that reply.
Martin Whitfield MP was concerned that vaping products were a ‘gateway’ to smoking – thankfully NOT mentioning the kids as is the usual case on this topic.
The panel handled this well with Dr Jones saying:
My very short and succinct answer is that the data to date suggest otherwise—that, if anything, e-cigarettes are a gateway out of smoking.
Absolutely – everyone knows – especially Big Tobacco – that smoking is a gateway to er smoking!
Zero Nicotine E-Liquids and Short Fills Under Fire
Of concern to us vapers already nervously eyeing an attack on zero nicotine e-liquids – in particular short-fill e-liquids – with growing levels of concern was the panel’s consensus ‘as scientists’ that these products were of ‘concern’.
I would expect nothing less from the Big Tobacco folk given the majority of their products are closed systems – so can’t be refilled and their HNB products are as we all know basically analogue cigarettes containing pure tobacco – you know just like a cigarette.
Their answers were of extreme concern to me and will need some serious rebutting by experts NOT paid by Big Tobacco or the Committee may simply agree with them and any new regulations may include further legislation around short fills.
Here’s Dr Jones’ response to the question should zero nicotine e-liquids be regulated the same as those covered by the TPD:
We are also seeing—I believe, in the UK—what are called short fills, where consumers buy a small bottle of nicotine-containing liquid and add it to an unregulated bottle of zero-nicotine flavoured liquid.
For me, as a scientist, that is a concern, because we do not know what is in that zero-nicotine flavoured liquid combination.
Based on the principles of consumer protection, I think that zero-nicotine liquids should be regulated in the same way.
This ‘principal’ was agreed on by all the Big Tobacco scientists – but remember their companies have a vested interest in turning off the tap of zero nic juice in as large a bottle as you like with the option to add a nic shot.
I’m not sure vapers will be at all happy if zero nic e-liquids can only be sold in 10ml bottles…
It’s way off in the distance yet but Big Tobacco has fired the opening shots [excuse the pun] in what cloud become a protracted war.
Big Tobacco systems are on the whole closed e-liquid tanks or filled with what is essentially a cigarette – so no need for refill bottles – let’s hope the Committee takes this into consideration.
Flavoured E-Liquids – Good Or Bad?
Still on the subject of e-liquids and Darren Jones MP asked if there were any health consequences from vaping flavoured e-liquids prompting Dr Proctor to say he vaped occasionally with his favourite flavour being mint.
O’Connell summed up pretty much what the Big 5 from Big Tobacco had to say on the subject – and of course ‘we must protect the poor kiddies’ came out:
We see that flavours are important in attracting smokers to the category and retaining them, to prevent relapse.
That does not detract from concerns about flavours potentially being attractive to children.
We would say that there should not be blanket bans on flavours per se, but responsible marketing approaches.
We would be very happy to discuss an appropriate naming convention for e-liquids.
The bubble gums and cotton candies are unacceptable, for example.
I find it quite bizarre tobacco companies can put on their moral righteous indignation hats when it comes to children and e-liquids given the deadly poisonous products they’ve been merrily pushing for years.
But hey a bit of what about the kids virtue signalling makes them feel and look good – mostly…
The Difference Between Smoking and Heat Not Burn Products
Dr Gilchrist – PMI/iQOS was quick to point out her company was far more advanced in HNB research than any other and threw out a load of impressive sounding statistics as to how ‘safe’ these products were.
Listen there’s an old saying:
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics…
Dr Gilchrist’s statistics showing a 90% to 95% reduction in harmful chemicals is based on in-house [that’s Big Tobacco] research that as yet has not been independently checked.
And given the main thrust of her ‘nothing to see here move away’ stance was this quote:
As a scientist, I would say, “Don’t focus on the fact that it is tobacco, because it is not tobacco that is causing the smoking-related diseases; it is the fact that it is combusted in cigarettes that causes the issue.”
The products are not risk free. They deliver nicotine, and they deliver some residual levels of harmful chemicals, but those levels are much reduced compared with cigarette smoke.
Look my feelings on HNB products are well known – they are basically warm fags made up 100% of tobacco and as a none smoker they do not interest me whatsoever.
They look like cigarettes – smell like cigarettes and taste like cigarettes – so in effect they are like I said a warm cigarette.
Until more independent research is done on them I for one shall be staying away.
But one thing is clear – and this is crucial – clear blue water MUST be put between HNB and e-cigarettes because they are NOT the same.
HNB Products Contain Chemicals That CAN Cause Cancer
The second and you’ll be pleased to know much shorter session was with two extremely qualified health experts .
- Professor David Harrison, Chair of the UK Committee on Carcinogenicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment (COC)
- Dr Lynne Dawkins, Associate Professor, London Southbank University Behavioural Science Centre
The committee was left in no doubt as to Professor Harrison’s thoughts on the health risks from HNB products with his opening statement:
It is exactly the same chemicals that you would find in cigarette smoke—combustion.
Some of those chemicals do not require combustion to be available, such as nitrosamines.
The combustion is about the quantity of chemical released, and they shift the balance, but the chemicals are essentially the same as other chemicals you would expect from cigarette smoking, which have the potential to cause mutations and, ultimately, cancer.
Nicotine and Passive Vaping’
The committee once again touched on so called ‘passive vaping‘ – something I had hoped was now understood NOT to be an issue – and in particular the amount of nicotine in the air from vaping – again not sure why that’s an issue given nicotine is none-carcinogenic..
Dr Dawkins said:
My understanding from reading the literature — this is not something in which I have a great deal of expertise — is that the nicotine levels found in the aerosol of electronic cigarettes dissipate quicker and generally at much lower levels than for tobacco cigarettes.
The studies that I have read show that, generally, levels of potentially harmful compounds were below the occupational safety levels in vape shops.
There has not been a huge amount of research done in that area.
The strength of nicotine was also discussed and in particular the 20mg cap post TPD.
Damien Moore MP asked if post Brexit was there a need for that.
Dr Dawkins said:
First, there is no rationale for that cap. I think it was mentioned earlier that there was not so much evidence around at the time when article 20 of the TPD was being created.
It seems arbitrary to me. There is no evidence for increased harms of nicotine with levels above 20 mg/ml.
In the absence of that evidence, and in the light of research by our group showing that if you reduce you compensate, that is costly financially, as you are using more e-liquid, and it may also come with a health cost if increased exposure translates to long-term health risk.
Still on the subject of nicotine and apparently those of us who have significantly reduced our strength are over compensating with more puffs – however that’s making little difference health wise as nicotine isn’t an issue.
Dr Dawkins said:
Nicotine is a mild stimulant, so it has an effect on blood pressure and heart rate, but, for most individuals, this does not seem to be problematic.
That is why nicotine is licensed as a medicine by the MHRA in nicotine replacement therapy products—and, indeed, is safe for use in pregnancy.
There is some literature that nicotine might be harmful to the developing brain in adolescence, but those findings come almost exclusively from animal research, so it is very difficult to extrapolate from that to humans.
We do not see any evidence that there are lots of adolescents with difficulties from using nicotine.
More Smokers Need To Switch To Vaping
Following discussions about flavourings and the effects they may have on health – nothing earth shattering – I got the feeling the chairman was ready for lunch and wanted to call a halt.
However Professor Harrison explained the need for more smokers to switch:
There is increasing evidence, particularly from the far east, that even one or two cigarettes a day, if you do big enough studies, will show a risk of lung cancer.
If you take an average as being 20, that is a 95% reduction, and cigarette smoking might still increase the rate of lung cancer.
That puts it into perspective that, if there are 40,000 people a year dying in this country, 400 would be 1%, so 2,000 would be 5%.
Let’s hope the MPs took the significance of those figures on board.
The session ended with Dr Dawkins calling for more smokers to make the switch to vaping:
I wish to pick up on the point that Moira made earlier about the plateau in the number of people taking up e-cigarettes.
Much research is on current vapers.
They are probably okay — they have made the switch.
We need to concentrate on smokers.
Why are smokers not making the switch?
Why are half of those smokers who have tried electronic cigarettes not fully transitioning?
This may be partly due to the nicotine concentrations, and it may be partly due to the health messages, but we need to make them as attractive as possible to smokers.
That means having a variety of different products—one size does not fit all—and having different concentrations of nicotine available.
Well said indeed.
The Big Tobacco companies were give an easy time of things I believe – but hey this wasn’t a court of law more a gentle questioning.
I just hope the committee sees through the cuddly bunny experts approach – particularly their worrying attack on zero nicotine e-liquids and short fills.
As I said these guys have a financial vested interest in seeing the competition regulated out of existence.
One thing that MUST be made clear is HNB has NOTHING to do with vaping and should be treated as such.
It was a very slick performance by the Big Tobacco scientists but given the questioning was gentle to say the least they were not really put on the spot.
Confusing Times Ahead
It’s a confusing minefield of issues the MPs have to work through with the big five having both HNB and e-cigarette products they’re championing.
It’s confusing for us vapers too.
Should we care if an e-liquid filled e-cigarette is manufactured by Big Tobacco?
That’s for you to decide – but given their knife in the back to zero nicotine e-liquids and short-fills they’ve shown their true colours again.
Let’s just hope the MPs recognize the fact nicotine is a relatively harmless chemical to the human body and mean common sense will prevail.
I don’t think it’s time to baton down the hatches and stockpile short-fills and nicotine just yet – but rather keep a wary eye on further developments.
And to be honest whilst advocacy groups can and will be fighting our corner it’s about time the industry as a whole stopped fannying around and made a stand on all the issues this committee is looking at – before it’s too late.
I came away from the last committee with a bit of a spring in my step – this time and seeing Big Tobacco in action I’m a little more downbeat.
Let’s hope it’s the after effects of the crazy weather we’ve been having and not a feeling in my bones that a storm is coming.