Singapore ban on e-cigarettes and low-risk tobacco products is unscientific, unethical and harmful to health – protects the cigarette trade at the expense of the health of smokers.
Two British tobacco policy experts have called on Singapore’s Minister for Health to put the bans on e-cigarettes and low-risk tobacco products on hold and to launch a policy rethink, starting with a thorough review of the evidence.
In a detailed letter to the Minister, Mr. Gan Kim Yong, the two veterans of the European and international struggle against tobacco-related disease, argue that banning low risk alternatives to smoking would be unscientific, unethical and harmful to health – and effectively a protection of the cigarette trade at the expense of the health of smokers.
The Ministry of Health had announced in June this year that from 15 December, Singapore will ban emerging tobacco products, those which are currently not available in Singapore, and also existing products in the local market.
The ministry said in its announcement that the ban is a “pre-emptive measure to protect public health against the known and potential harms of such products,”
It added that the ban will be implemented in two phases. The first phase of the ban will take effect from December 15 this year and it will cover products that are currently not available in Singapore. While the second phase of the ban, which takes effect from 1 August, 2016, will cover existing products in the local market.
The two tobacco policy experts call on Singapore to reassert its world leadership in tobacco control by showing that it can regulate these products in a way that exploits the huge potential to reduce harm while minimising any risks. Given the influence Singapore has on many countries, they argue that achieving world best practice in regulating these products would put Singapore in the forefront of bringing forward the ‘global endgame’ for the disease and death caused by smoking.
Professor Gerry Stimson of Imperial College London said:
“It makes no sense to ban these very low risk alternatives to smoking while leaving cigarettes freely available on the market”. Stimson continued: “it means that people who can’t or won’t quit using nicotine will carry on smoking, get sick and probably die from it”.
“People will continue to use nicotine whether we like it or not, but we can still virtually eliminate cancer respiratory and cardiovascular risk if they take in nicotine with products that do not create toxic smoke and tar… unfortunately it’s exactly these products that are being banned in Singapore”
Clive Bates, a longstanding tobacco control campaigner, said:
“These products have the potential to make cigarettes and smoking obsolete by 2040 – there is no case to ban them now. If we want to eradicate the death and disease caused by tobacco then allowing users to switch to an alternative nicotine product that at least 95 percent lower risk is a really good policy.
“Singapore has always been a leader in tobacco control but we think it’s taking a wrong turn by banning these products. A far better strategy is to use carefully designed regulation to encourage them to gradually destroy the cigarette trade and save thousands of lives. Prohibition of low risk alternative products doesn’t mean users quit, it means they carry on smoking,”
Below is the full open letter from the two British tobacco policy experts to Singapore’s Minister for Health regarding the intention to ban novel non-combustible tobacco and nicotine products in Singapore in addition to generalising the existing ban on e-cigarettes.