UAE e-cigarette sales ban to remain despite UK study supporting devices

The Royal College of Physicians has said it believes use of e-cigarettes could lead to a significant drop in the number of smokers but doctors here are still apprehensive in case the devices cause long-term damage.

DUBAI // The UAE’s tough stance on e-cigarettes is unlikely to shift soon, despite UK doctors backing the devices as valuable tools in quitting smoking.

The Royal College of Physicians has said e-cigarettes should be classified as medical aids, but doctors in the UAE say long-term health effects are unknown and they are cautious of promoting the devices.

The RCP believes e-cigarettes could lead to a significant drop in the number of smokers, preventing deaths and serious illness.

Dr Zeeshan Khan at Medeor 24x7 Hospital in Dubai understands the caution but backs a review of the licensing rules.

“It is something that needs to be looked at but there is not a lot of evidence to support either argument,” Dr Khan said.

“The UAE and GCC in general are among the biggest consumers of tobacco in the world.”

Tobacco causes 100,000 British deaths a year. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the UAE, with most victims smokers.

Last September, a study by King’s College London and Queen Mary College suggested “vaping” was 95 per cent safer than smoking cigarettes.

Electronic devices used to inhale nicotine in vapour rather than tobacco smoke are unlicensed for import or sale in the UAE under a 2011 directive from the Ministry of Health, in line with the World Health Organisation’s guidance that they have not been proven safe.

A 200-page RCP report examined the science, public policy, regulation and ethics surrounding e-cigarettes. It found that they neither led to smoking nor normalised it.

It said that among smokers, e-cigarette use was likely to lead smokers to try to quit, and admitted that long-term harm could not be dismissed due to inhalation of nicotine but the likelihood was small.

Available data suggested risks associated with e-cigarettes were unlikely to exceed 5 per cent of those associated with smoked tobacco products, the report found.

Prof John Britton, chairman of the RCP’s Tobacco Advisory Group, said: “This report lays to rest almost all of the concerns over these products, and concludes that, with sensible regulation, electronic cigarettes have the potential to make a major contribution towards preventing the premature death, disease and social inequalities in health that smoking currently causes in the UK.”

Dr Khan said: “E-cigarettes are far better than shisha pipes but, whether it ever comes into regulation in the UAE is still a matter for debate.”