Almost a year ago i switched to an e-cig or 'nicotine delivery system' as the leaflet which comes with my monthly order of nicotine liquid calls its. It isn't the same as smoking a real cigarette but close enough to have won over 1.3 million users in the UK alone and it has the added bonus of not exposing me or anyone in my immediate vicinity to cancer.
It is a fair assumption that the vast majority of 1.3 million Brits who now regularly use e-cigarettes are former smokers and as nicotine is almost entirely harmless (although highly addictive), you would have thought the medical industry would be delighted but not so the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) who are pushing for e-cigarettes to be classed as medicines and the e-cigarette companies subject to tough new tests before they can sell their wares.
Now i have some sympathy with the people who argue with me that e-cigarettes may not be the wonderful things us 'vapers' say they are.
They say we are just substituting one addiction for another which is true and that e-cigarettes can be used as a stepping stone to 'proper' smoking and that the fruity flavours may encourage children to 'vape' and then smoking.
I have yet to hear of anybody who has made the opposite journey and gone from non-smoker to vaper to smoker but it is plausible and i agree that the flavours such as tutti fruity, ice cream and toffee popcorn could entice children to try them out so i do have sympathy with that argument.
My problem is that by classifying e-cigarettes as a medicine, the plethora of small retailers who sale the nicotine and the vaping accessories will be forced to pay millions for the required testing and the licence to sale the nicotine liquid which will close many sites, leaving only those with the deepest pockets to continue which in turn will make it harder to buy the stuff and force many ex-smokers back to cigarettes.
Seems rather a backward step to reduce the availability of something that has stopped so many people from smoking but therein lies the rub.
The 1.3m ex-smokers no longer buying 'proper' cigarettes leave a huge dent in the profits of not only the tobacco companies but if they are using e-cigarettes to quit, they are not paying out for Nicotine Replacement Therapy such as patches and gum.
In the UK in 2011, nicotine replacement therapies were worth £120m, tax on tobacco products swells the Government coffers by £9bn annually and tobacco companies profits are down (Imperial Tobacco announced that tobacco net revenues are down 5.9% in 2012) so while the publics health may be improving, these three would be the big losers by more people taking up e-cigarettes.
The government, tobacco industry and pharmaceutical companies will never admit to trying to reduce the proliferation of e-cigarettes because it needs the taxes it rakes in from you killing yourself.
The MHRA on the other hand can say that as e-cigarettes are used as a stopping smoking device, they should be classed as a 'nicotine replacement therapy' product and be subject to the stringent demands made on other NRT's.
The MHRA it should be noted is an official arm of the UK Government who have regular meetings with the tobacco industry and recently scrapped plans for plain packaging on cigarette packets after one company threatened to close its UK factory unless it relented on the plan, and the MHRA has strong ties to the pharmaceutical industry where it receives most of its funding and it is also the case that many of the MHRA’s senior staff have connections to the pharmaceutical giants which led to a House of Commons Committee report 'The Influence of the Pharmaceutical Industry' that concluded that: 'These close working relationships over decades have meant that industry views have been much more prominently represented than the interests of patients and consumers.'
So there you have it, the three who would most lose the most from a wide take-up of e-cigarettes are trying to thwart the wide-scale take up of e-cigarettes and if that means denying people addicted to a damaging substance the opportunity to transfer that addiction to a product most medical professionals rate as harmless then they will.
Profits once again trump everything.