New Zealand Health Ministry opinion on e-cigarettes is pro-harm reduction

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ACSH gives two cheers to the New Zealand Ministry of Health for acknowledging that electronic cigarettes are “far safer” than traditional cigarettes. This statement was made to Members of Parliament (MPs) as they prepare to vote on the Smoke-Free Environments (Controls and Enforcement) Amendment Bill, which includes a proposal to legislate electronic cigarettes containing nicotine as a tobacco-related product. Currently, however, the Ministry still considers electronic cigarettes to be unregulated medical devices and recommends that clinical trials be conducted to prove their safety and efficacy (i.e. to facilitate smokers’ efforts to quit) before allowing their distribution.

But ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross notes that the request for clinical trials would be “extraordinarily hard to accomplish financially because adequately demonstrating safety would require thousands of patients observed over many years for health outcomes. This would be prohibitively expensive. Trials to assess efficacy for helping addicted smokers quit, on the other hand, would require shorter observation times and, therefore, would cost less money. But even if the tobacco companies could finance the studies, nobody would believe an industry-backed study on e-cigarette safety.”

ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan expresses some satisfaction, in that this statement reflects great progress in the harm reduction movement, especially when compared to the U.S. FDA’s stance on e-cigarettes. “Our FDA would never make such a statement because the agency doesn’t believe, or won’t admit, there’s sufficient evidence that e-cigarettes are beneficial to health or smoking cessation efforts,” she notes. “We, like the New Zealand Ministry of Health, believe that electronic cigarettes are a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes because they deliver clean nicotine without the harmful combustion products of tobacco smoke.”