Saturday, 11 January 2014

Professor John Britton's UKNSCC conference address supporting e-cigs, summer 2013

Having predicted that e-cigarettes will destroy tobacco control I decided look further for signs of hostility on the part of major tobacco control players towards e-cigs. I started with Professor John Britton, a leading light in the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies.  Professor Britton spoke in favour of the motion 'The field should be positive about the development of e-cigarettes' (the only part of the debate that seems to have been recorded). His opposer was Jean King of Cancer Research UK. The debate is accessible from this link and includes a slide presentation.

The debate addresses tobacco control's fears that tobacco companies use the e-cigarette market in e-cigarettes to buy respectability and even a place at the public health table, from which the tobacco industry is excluded.

I have to admit that Britton surprises me in some ways in this address: first by describing the non-medical nature of e-cigarettes as a 'strength'. He sees it definitely as an asset that smokers are using e-cigarettes heavily. His evidence tells him that smokers use them overwhelmingly as a tool to stop smoking, and in general he is in favour of them.

He also points out the involvement of pharmaceutical investment in the smoking cessation conference itself, and notes that pharmaceutical investment is an accepted part of life. Not only does he ask whether it is acceptable to take money from pharmaceutical companies and decline it from others, he goes so far as to point out that pharmaceutical companies have in some respects a murderous safety record. (I'm now trying to work out exactly what he means by this: surely not that tobacco money is acceptable?)

As to whether the tobacco industry's involvement should be a cause for alarm, he illustrates deftly how hard it would be to advise smokers against specific electronic products, because ownership and investment in these by tobacco and other companies shifts all the time. The key, he concludes, is to regulate the product, not the manufacturer. I'd love to hear Jean King's case against this, indeed the rest of the debate.

Britton's closing slide shows a technician at his university who has stopped smoking 'on his own' with the help of an e-cigarette. The technician doesn't want him (as a tobacco control policy leader) to interfere with the flavourings. It seems clear that at least some professional tobacco control practitioners feel ownership of this new tool in the box that they can use to help people stop smoking. But the technician, using the e-cigarette, has not needed Britton's professional help.

If anyone knows whether the rest of the debate was recorded I'd love to hear it!


Clive Bates said...

The audio is here

John Britton has always been positive about alternatives to smoking and an opponent of the 'quit or die' prohibitionist philosophy. See this

Belinda said...

Thanks for your link Clive (I was hoping it contained the rest of the debate though!)