Ministry to consult with public on e-cigarette ban

Health Ministry requests public feedback on electronic cigarettes before deciding whether to ban them.

Man smoking 370 (photo credit: Ina Fassbender/Reuters)
Man smoking 370
(photo credit: Ina Fassbender/Reuters)
Although the use of electronic cigarettes – with or without nicotine – has been prohibited in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand, restricted in the UK, Finland, Malaysia and Singapore and is soon to be barred in New York State and Russia – the Health Ministry in Jerusalem is only now asking the public its opinion on the product.
While a ministry committee has recommended that the marketing, import and use of e-cigarettes be prohibited for five years, after which the question would be assessed, the ministry has decided to make a decision on e-cigs only after consulting with the public.
The ministry said on Thursday that in recent years, e-cigs – first available abroad in 2004 – have become very popular among smokers and former smokers. The electronic devices run on batteries, produce steam that looks like smoke and is inhaled, use solutions with taste and odor, and some contain addictive nicotine.
The ministry noted that although e-cigs are widely sold in Israel, they have never received the required ministry approval, and “there is no supervision of their content and [of] the potential health risks of the products.
“E-cigs are presented in a misleading way, as a supposed safe alternative to regular cigarettes and a supposed means to help people kick the habit,” the ministry said.
“They are sold in shops or via the Internet, taking advantage of the fact that they have never been studied in depth,” it added.
As a result, limitations in many countries have not yet been set down, unlike those relating to tobacco products, their use, sale and where smoking is still permitted.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post to comment on the ministry statement, Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking chairman Amos Hausner said that “Russia has just shown determination to completely prohibit use of any kind of e-cig. This move was praised at the recent conference of the Harvard School of Public Health that I just attended.
“Russia has also prohibited all advertising, which has not happened in Israel because [of] the powerful tobacco lobby. According to a new survey, two-thirds of Israelis are exposed to tobacco smoke against their will, compared to only 10 percent of Canadians.”
Hausner, a lawyer who has fought cigarettes for decades, said that the “Israeli hesitation on e-cigs is not a good thing.
This product has penetrated the market with claims it is less dangerous than cigarettes and even beneficial‚ but its short- and long-term effects have not yet been studied. The government is gambling on the future.
“Every medication that reaches the human digestive system, for example, has to pass fundamental checks before being approved. This [product] involves smoke or steam passing directly into the respiratory system – much more sensitive and less protected from danger than the digestive system – and these substances flow directly into the brain.”
The national council chairman continued that “millions and even billions of dollars are invested into the study of the effects of medications and [many of these] are barred from sale after years of use, when their long-term effects on humans are found to be dangerous.
Here we have a product after cheap development that has not been tested for their effects at all,” Hausner concluded.
In 2009, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a severe warning against e-cigs, because a number of brands were found to contain carcinogenic substances and because they were not proven to help in giving up smoking.
The ministry here has issued warnings against the use of ecigs, but nevertheless, their advertising, sale and use have skyrocketed. In 2010, the ministry decided to include, in the health services basket, a number of drugs and other proven technologies to help smokers quit, and these did not include e-cigs.
The ministry said that children have also been using them, and that a black market of e-cigs containing psychoactive substances that affect the brain has arisen.
As a result, the ministry last year set up a multidisciplinary committee to investigate the subject from all angles. It has not yet issued a report, but said that the committee “has great doubts about the safety, efficacy and characteristics of use, thus there is doubt about their safety – whether they contain nicotine or not.”
The committee also decided that there is no scientific proof that e-cigs are effective in stopping smoking, or that their “steam” does not expose bystanders to health dangers against their will, the ministry said.
The ministry committee thus recommended the prohibition of the manufacture, import and marketing of e-cigarettes in Israel and that the issue be assessed after five years of prohibition. Alternatively, the ministry could decide to regard e-cigs as tobacco products and require them to meet all restrictions that exist on cigarettes made from tobacco, including the prohibition of smoking them in public.
In the meantime, the ministry said it would continue to “follow scientific developments around the world regarding the risks, or safety, of the use of e-cigs, and their efficacy, or lack of it, in stopping smoking,” and then would decide what to do.
As a result, the ministry has decided to solicit public views of the matter via the website until March 25, 2013. It will announce its decision over the summer.