Call for ban on e-cigarettes to be lifted

Greek cardiologist reveals study findings that 81 per cent of those who have taken up e-cigarettes have quit smoking completely.

E-cigarettes are banned in the UAE but some doctors say that they are a safer alternative to smoking normal cigarettes. Getty Images / AFP
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ABU DHABI // Health chiefs have been urged to lift a ban on e-cigarettes to help smokers to quit the habit.
The ban, combined with the low cost of cigarettes, was effectively promoting tobacco use, said Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, a Greek cardiologist taking part in the World Conference on Tobacco or Health in Abu Dhabi.
Despite a worldwide trend of falling tobacco use, the number of smokers in the UAE is growing.
"It is a big problem. Not only is there on a ban on a product that is less harmful than smoking, but smoking is available everywhere at a relatively low cost," Dr Farsalinos said.
The Ministry of Health bans the sale of e-cigarettes because its experts are not convinced of their safety. The devices work by atomising a liquid solution of nicotine, glycol and glycerin, which the user inhales. The long-term effects on the lungs are not known.
Dr Farsalinos said: "I am not saying e-cigarettes are 100 per cent safe - they are not.
"But the toxic chemicals are a lot lower than in cigarettes.
"It is fair to ask why it is reasonable in the UAE to make cigarettes widely available and yet ban a product that has been proven to be a successful substitute.
"Trying to enforce restrictions on e-cigarettes is as good as promoting tobacco products."
Dr Farsalinos has been working on e-cigarette research since 2012 and studied the habits of 19,441 e-cigarette users who completed an online survey.
Most of the respondents were smokers who had tried e-cigarettes as a substitute to avoid the adverse effects of smoking.
Of those polled, 81 per cent said they had quit smoking completely since taking up e-cigarettes.
The research also found that nicotine replacement therapies had a less than 7 per cent sustained abstinence rate, and oral medication less than 20 per cent.
Dr Farsalinos insists they could save huge numbers of lives and a global fortune in healthcare costs associated with treating smoking-related diseases, including heart disease and at least 15 different cancers.
"E-cigarettes would be the biggest revolution in tobacco reduction here, if legalised," he said.
"It is the only product that not only provides nicotine but simulates smoking behaviour. It has the sensory stimulation and the visual effect of seeing vapour smoke.
"There is no combustion, and that is the key issue."
The rise in the number of smokers in the UAE has been attributed in part to the growing popularity of shisha.
Smoking shisha is said to be 72 times more toxic than cigarettes. Dr Feras Hawari, a Jordanian expert in related health conditions, said flavoured tobacco made shisha more appealing.
Dr Farsalinos said e-cigarette technology was already being used in shisha pipes to provide a less harmful alternative.
"You get the same experience but without the tobacco," he said.
"You can get a lot of flavours so it would work for that market."
However, he conceded that tere was a concern that children or non-smokers might be attracted to the market as new consumers of nicotine via e-cigarettes.
Public health researchers have called for a global ban on tobacco by 2040. Tobacco is predicted to cost the lives of one billion people this century, mostly from low-income and middle-income countries.
Writing in the UK medical journal The Lancet, previewing this week's Abu Dhabi conference, Prof Robert Beaglehole, from the University of Auckland, said: "The time has come for the world to acknowledge the unacceptability of the damage being done by the tobacco industry and work towards a world essentially free from the legal and illegal sale of tobacco products.
"A world where tobacco is out of sight, out of mind and out of fashion - yet not prohibited - is achievable in less than three decades but only with full commitment from governments, international agencies and civil society."
The smoking stats:
There are now more than 1 billion smokers in the world.
More than 300 million people use smokeless tobacco or other alternatives.
More than 5.8 trillion cigarettes were smoked last year.
Cigarette butts are the most commonly discarded item of waste - 766 million kilograms a year.
Increased consumption in China, where average consumption is 22 cigarettes a day, offsets declines in other countries.
Progress made in de-normalising smoking may be reversed by the increasing prevalence of e-cigarettes and other alternative tobacco products.
Tobacco is killing more than half and as many as two thirds of tobacco users.
In 2013, tobacco industry profits were US$44.1 billion (Dh162bn).
* The American Cancer Society and World Lung Association