IN A landmark decision, the United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) announced on Oct 12 that it has authorised the first set of e-cigarette products for sale in the US.
In greenlighting these products, the agency signalled that it believed vaping products offer smokers the opportunity to quit traditional cigarettes with reduced exposure to harmful chemicals.
Following its decision, FDA said in a statement that the authorisation is an important step toward ensuring all new products undergo the FDA's robust, scientific premarket evaluation.
They added that “the manufacturer's data demonstrates its tobacco-flavoured products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products, either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption, by reducing their exposure to harmful chemicals.”
This concurs with recent research.
Reviewing evidence from 61 studies that included more than 16,000 participants, Jamie Hartmann-Boyce at the University of Oxford found that the findings provided more confidence that e-cigarettes with nicotine, such as those now approved by the FDA, can help people quit smoking better than other replacement aids such as gum or patches.
The Oxford scholar added that in studies testing e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking, there was no evidence that people using e-cigarettes were more likely to experience serious health issues.
For a medical practitioner like me, when translated into action, this simply means: “If you do not smoke, do not start to use e-cigarettes or vape. If you do smoke, consider switching.”
E-cigarettes or vape as we know it in Malaysia, first gained traction in 2015 as a device designed to give smokers the ‘nicotine fix’ they craved without the carcinogens that come from burning cigarettes.
Conceptually known as tobacco harm reduction, this strategy aims to reduce harm to the health of cigarette smokers who are unable or unwilling to stop using nicotine through traditional methods (primarily cigarette smoking) by encouraging the substitution of other nicotine yielding products.
While there are many nicotine substitutes available, data suggests that e-cigarettes or vaping is the most effective. In a recent review by Cochrane, it was concluded that more people probably stop smoking for at least six months using nicotine e-cigarettes compared with nicotine replacement therapy.
Studies like these, which to some extent, drove the landmark decision by FDA, should not be understated. It is a strong example of how science-backed evidence can and must play a role in developing regulatory frameworks for complex products like e-cigarettes.
In Malaysia, where there is a continuous struggle to reduce smoking prevalence, a regulatory framework that positions e-cigarettes as a viable solution for smokers to quit smoking tobacco, may be the pathway we need to manage the smoking epidemic in the country.
Dr Kumar Subaramaniam is a medical practitioner with a career spanning 25-years. He has worked extensively in the psychiatry department of various local hospitals and has special interest in mental health. Over the years, Dr. Kumar has provided patients with supportive counselling, particularly in wellness counselling, and has provided multiple public lectures on wellness.