Electronic cigarettes remain in legal limbo as the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) continues to stall a public consultation into their regulation.
The MHRA was supposed to publish its recommendations, widely expected to follow rules governing smoking cessation aids such as nicotine patches and inhalers, last summer. Over six months later, there is still no sign of a response.
“The delay is unsatisfactory for all concerned, particularly smokers who may wish to try e-cigarettes but are concerned about safety issues,” says Amanda Sandford of anti-smoking charity ASH. “Consumers need a clearer idea of how much nicotine they’re getting from these products, and we’d like to see more investment from pharmaceutical companies offering nicotine in a cleaner, safer way.”
E-cigarettes deliver vaporised nicotine without many of the carcinogenic chemicals found in traditional tobacco cigarettes.Although they may provide a way for smokers to stop using tobacco, some have been shown to deliver erratic doses of nicotine and none have undergone large-scale safety or efficacy trials. As it stands today, e-cigarettes can be sold freely in the UK – even to children – and can be used where tobacco products cannot, in pubs, shops and offices.
While many scientistsare calling for stricter controls on e-cigarettes until they are proven completely safe, manufacturers claim such moves would make it more difficult for smokers to quit using tobacco, the leading cause of preventable deaths worldwide.
“Although uncertainty was high in the first few months following the supposed end to the consultation, we now feel that it has been effectively shredded by the MHRA,” says Simon Christou, MD of e-cigarette distributor Liberro. “Simply put,it has no grounds, legally or ethically, on which to base its actions.”
An MHRA spokesperson told E&T, “The Agency had hoped to be able to announce the outcome of the consultation but this has not been possible. There have been a vast amount of responses.”
The latest issue of E&T magazine features an investigation into e-cigarettes, the issues surrounding them and the surprising responses takne by regulatory authorities, health campaigners, and the companies that make them.