US academic calls on State to regulate e-cigarettes

Ireland could show ‘leadership’ in EU by classifying products as medical devices

Last year MEPs rejected a proposal to classify e-cigarettes as medicinal products. Photograph: Regis Duvignau/Reuters

Last year MEPs rejected a proposal to classify e-cigarettes as medicinal products. Photograph: Regis Duvignau/Reuters

Tue, Mar 25, 2014, 01:01


A Harvard professor has called on the Government to show leadership in the EU by regulating electronic cigarettes as medical devices.

Prof Gregory Connolly, director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at Harvard, argues that if unregulated, e-cigarettes could be the “panacea” for the tobacco industry’s woes by discouraging quitting and encouraging children to take up smoking.

However, if regulated, e-cigarettes could offer a “miracle” for getting people to quit smoking.

Prof Connolly was in Dublin yesterday to mark the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the workplace smoking ban at an event in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI).

“The reason why I came here is to tell this nation – you need to go in and show leadership within the EU. You’ve got to pass a law here regulating [e-cigarettes] as medical devices,” he told The Irish Times .

Because of the smoking ban, the State had the “moral virtue” and the “leadership” to do this, he said.


‘Dropped the ball’
The EU “dropped the ball” on e-cigarettes, he said. Last year MEPs rejected a proposal to classify e-cigarettes as medicinal products.

Trends in Ireland show that children born today will be in a smoke-free State by the time they turn 18 in 2032, he said.

However, he fears this progress could be threatened if e-cigarettes discourage people from quitting by promoting dual use of e-cigarettes and cigarettes. If this is the case “we’re going to see the progress in Ireland stalled and possibly gone,” he added.

E-cigarettes can help to “retain addiction” through dual use and the problem is not about how many cigarettes people smoke, but for how many years. “If I smoke 20 cigarettes a day and quit at 35, I’m going to be as healthy as a horse and may have no disease. If I cut down to 10 cigarettes [with the use of e-cigarettes] and continue smoking, it’s no different than if I was smoking 20,” he said. If unregulated, e-cigarettes could recruit a new generation of cigarette smokers for the industry. A recent Utah study showed that 9 per cent of children in the 12th grade (about 17 years old) were smoking e-cigarettes and 3 per cent cigarettes and they were “transferring over” to cigarettes, he said.


Independent research
Prof Connolly has concerns about allowing the tobacco industry to design and market e-cigarettes. He wants to see independent research done on e-cigarettes and the industry to do “human trials” before they “start doing experiments on whole countries”, he said.

There also needs to be more approval of the chemicals used in the products and more knowledge about what they do to people’s brains, he added.

Yesterday Minister for Health James Reilly said he would like to see e-cigarettes being brought in on the basis of “purely medicinal advice”.

The Government would “certainly” ban them for under-18s. However, he said they had a role in “helping people to quit” smoking.

Dr Reilly also said that legislation to ban smoking in cars where children are present will be ready in the “next number of weeks”.