Tobacco manufacturers are rushing to popularise the use of e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to combustible smoking amid a severe onslaught from health experts and consumer regulators.
The use of e-cigarettes also known as vaping, is under threat following claims that it could create a new generation of nicotine addicts and a spike in lung illnesses including at least seven deaths in US.
Speakers at the just-concluded Global Tobacco and Nicotine Forum in Washington DC, sought to dispel the health claims insisting they are not scientifically proven.
Most speakers at the forum which brought together senior managers in big tobacco companies, global health, market regulators, finance and the nicotine industry said vaping was under threat after a wave of negative publicity following the deaths.
“We need to be able to provide better access to alternatives and information to adult smokers who want to continue to smoke,” said Marc Firestone, the Vice President for external affairs at Phillip Morris International, a tobacco firm.
“The discussion about e-cigarettes has become irrational, toxic and ideological. We need to meet and discuss harm reduction in a civil fashion’” said Scott Ballin, an expert in tobacco and public health.
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that people use to inhale an aerosol which typically contains nicotine, flavourings and other chemicals. They are marketed as safer than combustible tobacco and are especially popular among teenagers in developed countries.
However, they are banned in many countries such as Brazil, Singapore, the Seychelles, Uruguay and India because of fears they could engender nicotine addiction among teenagers.
Kenya, which has about three million smokers and is a major producer and exporter of tobacco has no clear policy to guide or regulate their use although they are available in the market. Africa, which has an estimated 77 million smokers most of whom are from poor regions, was not represented at the Washington Forum.
The US government recently announced plans to ban all flavoured e-cigarettes following the deaths and an increase in lung illnesses.