Thursday 13 June 2013

Electronic Cigarettes - The BMA abandons evidence based science in favour of speculation.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson
I've just watched Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Science and Ethics at the BMA on ITV News (12 June 2013).

She was advising people to stop using Electronic Cigarettes because of health worries.

I used to be quite a heavy smoker, smoking 20-30 cigarettes a day. I was an expert at giving up smoking having given it up dozens of times over the previous 30 years. I knew it was bad for my health, my wallet and the health of the people around me.

When I breathed deeply I could hear a wheezing noise. I would get out of breath simply walking up a single flight of stairs. I could run... for about 30 seconds... before I was in severe respiratory distress. I had a perpetual cough and would cough up alarmingly thick dark phlegm. I smelled and I was spending a small fortune on my filthy anti-social habit. I was approaching 50 and I was a prime candidate for a serious smoking related illness, or worse.

I'd read all the books on how to stop smoking, Motivational material, I'd been on the government stop smoking scheme, I'd tried patches, gums and sprays. Many of them worked after a difficult struggle... for a while. But within weeks or sometimes months, I'd have a crisis and be back to square one.

I know withdrawal symptoms are different for different people, but let me explain how it was for me.

If you've had children, you will understand this. Imagine taking your young toddler to go shopping in a large department store in an unfamiliar town. Your attention is distracted for a moment, when you look round, your child is no longer by your side. Instant panic hits. You look up and down the isles of goods and your child is nowhere to be seen.  That awful feeling is what hits me in a withdrawal attack, and it hits every 5 minutes, all day. It wears you down, you can't concentrate on everyday things and you are to say the least, not the best of company.

For those of you without children, It's the feeling you get while driving your car on a clear road, It's a cool dry day, your favourite music is on loud and you're driving way too fast.. You look in your rear-view mirror to see blue flashing lights and an "ECILOP" sign right on your tail. Intense anxiety rush. Imagine that feeling every 5 minutes, all day.

Ever wonder why a newly stopped smoker is so grouchy and irritable?

The intensity of that feeling diminishes over the following weeks but it never goes away.

One day in 2007 I discovered Electronic Cigarettes or eCigs. They looked promising. The advertising said you get your nicotine hit with no tar, no nasty chemicals, no carcinogens, no burning substances but it had the same feel as smoking a cigarette without the well documented health risks.

This is the device I am using today (The Odyssey)
It looked too good to be true. I did a little research and found that other than the nicotine, all the substances used in the product were approved for use in food and cosmetics with no known health risks. Plus the nicotine was not in itself harmful at the dosage used in Electronic Cigarettes.

I bought one, with the expectation of being a little disappointed.

The complete transition from cigarettes to the eCig was immediate, obviously with no withdrawal symptoms. The sensation of smoking was quite realistic. It greatly exceeded my expectations. This was a smoking alternative that was sustainable, vastly less harmful and a fraction of the price of cigarettes.

Over the following weeks, my lungs started to clear. I no longer wheezed, no more coughing, no more yucky phlegm, I didn't smell like an old ashtray. On public transport, I no longer had to go through contortions to avoid breathing on someone and see them turn their head in disgust. I could talk to people face to face without embarrassment.

I did try a cigarette a couple of weeks after the switch over, it tasted OK but it felt like it was full of pollutants, whereas my eCig tasted clean and unadulterated with junk. From day one, I never really felt the need to go back to smoking cigarettes.

After a year my lungs were clear, I could run up stairs for several floors and recover quickly. This was an unthinkably dangerous thing to do just 12 months before. I could now run in the local fun-run and actually enjoy it.

I can smoke my eCig at my desk, thus gaining at least an extra hour of productive work time that was previously wasted at the back of the car park several times a day, often in the rain.

I'm now 53 and I recently had a medical for insurance purposes. I blew the Peak Flow Meter to the maximum limit of the scale.

I genuinely believe my health would have deteriorated had I continued smoking cigarettes. I also believe Electronic Cigarettes have probably saved my life or at least saved me from an unpleasant early death. I no longer worry about dying from a smoking related illness. In fact I feel fitter than I have felt in many years. I'm now physically capable of effective exercise.

I would urge all smokers to give these devices a try. Yes, I'm biased, Yes I'm now an eCig evangeliser, but I have damn good reason to be. I struggled for years trying to permanently break the tobacco habit. eCigs allowed me to do just that, with zero effort. Today I would have been spending £10 a day feeding my cigarette addiction. A good quality eCig costs less than 10 days supply of regular cigarettes and then about 50p-70p a day running costs.

However, Today I saw Dr Vivienne Nathanson, Head of Science and Ethics at the BMA advising people to stop using eCigs because they could be a health risk.    WTF.....

As an engineer with a science based background, I know that good scientific conclusions are Evidence Based. Bad science is based on speculation, personal bias and guesswork.

The evidence I see is that millions of people around the world are dying from smoking related illnesses. This is not disputed within the medical community.

The evidence against Electronic Cigarette usage on health grounds is practically non existent. When I say evidence, I mean "Good Science" independent evidence, not the evidence produced by the Tobacco industry lobby or government financed studies paid for by the politicians who are losing out on millions of pounds worth of tax revenue.

Dr Nathanson claims to be a woman of science but is prepared to go on national TV with authoritative advice that we should stop using Electronic Cigarettes because of the health risks, based on a complete lack of evidence. This smacks of the appalling advice given by the Anti-Vax movement.

About 100,000 people die from smoking related illnesses in the UK each year . Even if there was evidence that eCigs could cause respiratory and cardiac problems, and kill 10,000 people a year, they are still vastly better than Cigarettes. But this is not the case. I can not find one single case of fatal cancer, lung disease or heart disease attributed directly to the correct use of Electronic Cigarettes. Not one single case.

What kind of science would advise high risk smokers not to use an alternative product with no known health risks. The BMA should be petitioning the government to encourage smokers to give up proven harmful tobacco products in favour of products that are vastly safer, cheaper and unbelievably easy to switch over to.

In my opinion, eCigs do not have to be guaranteed 100% absolutely free of any health risk. 95% safer than tobacco based cigarettes is good enough for me and would still save the NHS hundreds of millions a year.

I would challenge Dr Nathanson to provide hard scientific evidence that eCigs provide a significantly high health risk to justify the banning of a product that could help millions of smokers to immediately eliminate their dependency on harmful tobacco based cigarettes. If there is no demonstrable evidence then should we not be organising a campaign to get smokers off carcinogenic cigarettes and onto non-carcinogenic eCigs.

Before you ask, No, I do not have any connection with the Electronic Cigarette industry other than as a consumer of their products.