Offering smokers a healthier substitute7th October 2007
The Independent has applauded the Royal College of Physicians’ proposal to offer smokers something safer than tobacco for their nicotine addiction, but adds a “health warning of its own".
The message in a report from the Royal College of Physicians was to offer smokers something safer than tobacco to satisfy their craving for nicotine and in the process save some, possibly even most, of the one billion lives that smoking is expected to claim globally this century.
The basis of the plan is that it is the tobacco that kills, not nicotine.
Despite the smoking ban, efforts to reduce smoking are progressing painfully slow, yet the market remains weighted against a cigarette substitute product.
Manufacturers of medicinal nicotine – presented in gums, patches and inhalers and designed to wean people off smoking – are bound by regulation while cigarette manufacturers have more freedom to do as they like.
This unbalanced market has stifled innovation in the area of nicotine substitutes but a more benign regulatory regime will help the makers of medicinal products. However, the challenge remains on whether it is possible to devise a workable substitute for a cigarette.
With the application of modern expertise, these may be improved. But it is by no means certain that any device can be developed to deliver nicotine as effectively as burning tobacco and unless it delivers the hit that smokers crave, it will fail.
The RCP’s proposal is a bold one. But it will need clever science and careful monitoring if it is to deliver the promised benefits.
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