Yesterday's announcement by the MHRA will undoubtedly prompt another avalanche of letters - this time to UK MPs - which I wholeheartedly support. The astonishingly cretinous proposal deserves to be strongly resisted for its incompetent lack of foresight and common sense. I hope others who read here will consider doing just that and demand that their MP asks some stiff questions of the MHRA and its decision to completely ignore the public.
Quick out of the blocks is long time fellow jewel robber Steve W, whose trenchant message to Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk was sent today and is reproduced in full below with permission. He makes some very good points which may come in handy for others who plan to put their objection in writing.
I am yet to receive a response to any of my previous four communications (sent on the 18th and 19th of April and on the 6th of June). I have, heretofore, been acting under the impression that, in a representative democracy, your job as my elected representative, having been elected to office to serve your constituents, included some form of (moral at least) obligation to both engage with and represent my views as one of said constituents. It appears that I was sadly mistaken and you do not share my view of this forming part of your responsibilities. I am, however, prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt on one more occasion and assume that one of your office monkeys is failing in their job to pass on to you certain correspondences from your constituents. As an employer myself, I am aware how difficult it can be to recruit suitably qualified people with the appropriate level of integrity to perform such tasks.
I am writing to you today concerning a related matter to my previous correspondence (to which I would still appreciate receiving your considered response).
As I am sure you are aware, yesterday the MHRA finally, and belatedly, released their recommendations concerning the future regulation of electronic cigarettes (wrapped up under the monicker of nicotine containing products or NCPs). They are intending to regulate all nicotine containing products as medicines within the UK. This will have several (if I was being overly generous I would say, unintended) consequences which I shall attempt to outline below.
I shall initially make some serious points regarding the likely outcomes of this activity, and then point out a few less serious, yet natural conclusions to be drawn.
· The costs and timeframes involved in applying for medical licensing will kill off all innovation in a fast moving field. Currently a separate licence is required for every product at a cost running into the millions of pounds and unlikely to be granted in under three years. In a marketplace which is both consumer led and driven by ever more innovative products this imposition will be catastrophic. Rather than consumers being able to assess for themselves the efficacy of, for example, new atomiser arrangements, the manufacturers will be forced to back a greatly reduced product range and to predict in advance which products are of sufficient value and efficacy to be worth licensing. At this point they will then have to spend millions and wait at least three years before there is even the potential for any sort of return on their investment.
· The removal of these products from the general consumer marketplace will cost some tens of thousands of UK jobs, many of them in economically deprived areas such as your own and surrounding constituencies. As I said previously, I have recently become an employer for the first time, but not only will I be forced to lay off my staff, I too will be out of work. Bearing in mind the current state of the economy it seems very ill-advised to actively kill off one of the few genuinely consumer led growth industries in the country.
· Pharmaceutical companies currently make in excess of £500 million from ‘sales’ of nicotine patches, inhalers and gums. Why have I put the word ‘sales’ in scare quotes? Because only a tiny minority of these sales are genuine, with the vast majority being funded from the taxpayers’ purse in the form of prescriptions. This arrangement allows an enormous premium to be charged thereby providing these pharmaceutical companies with a de facto tax payer subsidy to provide a product with a demonstrated efficacy in the region of 2%. This in contrast to an entirely end-user driven market where people are actually choosing to spend their own money on an alternative to smoking which early studies (notably that of Dr Lynne Dawkins of the University of East London, but other studies, such as those from Etter et al. suggest similarly high success rates) suggest being effective in over 50% of cases. The devil in me concludes that both the anti-tobacco lobby and the MHRA are more interested in retaining their status as favoured pets of the pharmaceutical industry, thereby retaining funding and future job prospects respectively, than they are in actually serving the public from whom theiur funding is derived and who provide them with their raison d’etre. MHRA is entirely taxpayer funded whereas the likes of ASH and other lobby groups funding is largely split between DoH/other government bodies and pharmaceutical companies (ASH annual accounts reveal an embarrassingly small amount of their funding, as a ‘charity’ is derived from genuinely charitable donations – they were initially set up by the DoH and act as little more than a mouthpiece for vested interests both within and outwith the DoH/pharmaceutical industry).
· A large number of those who have found electronic cigarettes to provide, for them, a satisfying and even pleasurable alternative to smoking have previously tried and failed to quit using patches/gums etc… these people will likely be encouraged back to smoking should the devices they have become accustomed to over the previous few years no longer be available. If, as claimed in the MHRAs press release, cigarette smoking is responsible for 80,000 deaths in the UK per annum, then driving in excess of 1 million currently non-smokers back to cigarettes means that those responsible will have blood on their hands. If this now forms part of the remit of the ‘public health’ industry then we must have fallen so very far from the days when public health was about preventing the spread of communicable diseases such as cholera or dysentery. On the bright side, I am sure the tobacco companies will be more than pleased at the prospect of regaining so many customers.
· Whilst these proposed regulations will make the manufacture and sale of electronic cigarettes within the UK much more difficult, the same cannot be said of the remainder of Europe, with whom we share a free trade agreement. The recent court decision (which I sent to you previously and regarding which I have received no response) in the TARTU Administrative Courts of Estonia where a similar directive was proposed, suggests that the legal position of such a regulatory framework is very questionable and that at least some EU member states will not face similar restrictions of business. Is it now considered to be the place of the MHRA to interfere in cross border trade within the EU, or is it simply a desire to drive manufacturing and distribution jobs, as well as the revenues and taxes they generate, out of the UK, as this will surely be the end result of such an action.
· As well as the above, I do not believe the borders agency has either the wherewithal or the manpower to prevent individuals from purchasing equipment and fluids of far more questionable quality direct from China, where you will find the standards and quality control framework is far less rigorous than our own. However, I am sure that they too will be grateful for the increased trade and the further job creation that this would entail.
· As the decision from the TARTU court highlighted, if these are to be regulated as medicinal products, perhaps one would care to highlight which medical condition they are being used to treat, then explain how the pharmacological effects derived therefrom differ in any meaningful way from the pharmacological effects of nicotine delivered via a traditional cigarette? If, as in Estonia, there is demonstrated to be no material difference, perhaps one could then explain why cigarettes should benefit, by government edict, from an explicit trade advantage over a product which is likely 99% + safer, in as much as it is widely accepted within the medical community that the vast majority of harm caused by cigarettes has nothing to do with nicotine, rather it is to do with ‘tar’, particulates and carbon monoxide, none of which can be present in the vapour produced from a device which generates no combustion (therefore no combustion by products), said vapour being produced from a fluid of known composition.
On top of these issues, the following would make for an interesting argumentum absurdum:
· Suppliers of tomatoes and aubergines are going to struggle to adequately define the levels of nicotine present in their produce, as the biochemical processes within these species of plant are, at best, ill-defined and subject to the vaguaries of both the weather and other growing conditions. I also suspect that pharmacies are going to have some difficulties in handling the levels of fresh produce to which we have become accustomed to being able to buy freely and easily in markets and supermarkets all over the country.
· The multinational tobacco companies will be overjoyed at the prospect of being able to provide cigarettes on prescription via the NHS, although, in this instance I envisage the bartering over the medical licence will be quite amusing to watch.
There are several other issues I would like to raise around this regulation, however, in view of the fact that I wholly expect this correspondence to be ignored in similar fashion to my previous attempts to communicate with you, I shall leave it at that for now. As a result of the fact that my previous correspondence has gone unanswered I have taken the liberty of copying this letter to the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, not a step I have taken lightly, rather one borne out of the frustration at what I perceive as a breach by you of your “…general duty to act in the interests of the nation as a whole, and a special duty to their constituents…” as detailed in section III, clause 6 of the ‘Code of Conduct, together with The Guide to the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members’ (2009) updated May 2010.
In conclusion, I would like to ask both for your views on the issues raised above and also for your support in opposing the imposition of these regulations, which, if enacted will likely be responsible for in excess of 1 million ex-UK smokers returning to traditional cigarettes.
Dr Steve W