Birmingham Director of Public Health, Dr Adrian Phillips, has backed calls for new controls on e-cigarettes, warning that they may simply be a new way for the tobacco industry to profit from addiction.
Earlier this week, more than 100 leading public health doctors and specialists from around the world signed a letter to the World Health Organisation calling for e-cigarettes to come under the same tight controls as tobacco products, with bans on advertising and promotion.
The experts voiced fears that young people being targeted by e-cigarette advertising will form the next generation of 'nicotine addicts'.
And, as Japan Tobacco became the latest tobacco company to enter the e-cigarette market, buying Bromsgrove-based E-Lites, there is growing concern about the involvement of the tobacco industry.
The concerns are not universal however and some experts have called for more support for e-cigarettes as they help people addicted to cigarettes quit. E-cigarettes only contain nicotine and not the other tar-based chemicals which cause most of the harm including lung cancer.
Now Dr Phillips has called for urgent independent research into an issue that divides public health opinion in the UK across the world.
He said: “The big problem with e-cigarettes at the moment is that we simply do not know enough about the long term consequences of using them. Can we say for sure that they’re safe? If we can’t, should we allow promotion and advertising? We also know that some have been harmed by fires and other problems due to overheating.
“The companies promoting e-cigarettes say they can play a big role in harm reduction and helping smokers quit. We know there are plenty of anecdotal stories to back that up. But that’s not enough. We need real evidence.
“In the meantime, the marketing of these devices is glamorising smoking and nicotine addiction, which undermines the very real progress we’ve made since the smoking ban.
“The fact that you can get a range of flavours, including bubble-gum and strawberry, adds weight to the suggestion that children and young people are being targeted. It's simply not acceptable that our kids are being used by big business just so they can make more money.
“We need in-depth independent research urgently, so that people can make informed decisions about the use of e-cigarettes. In the meantime, there are alternative ways to quit smoking and our Stop Smoking Service helps thousands of people a year.”
For friendly advice and support on how to stop smoking, go to www.bhamcommunity.nhs.uk/about-us/clinical-services/adults-and-community-services/stop-smoking/ call 0800 052 5855 free or text 'QUIT' to 80800.
Electronic cigarettes: reports commissioned by Public Health England: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/electronic-cigarettes-reports-commissioned-by-phe
Nicotine containing products (MHRA): http://www.mhra.gov.uk/Safetyinformation/Generalsafetyinformationandadvice/Product-specificinformationandadvice/Product-specificinformationandadvice%E2%80%93M%E2%80%93T/Nicotinecontainingproducts/index.htm
ASH briefing on e-cigarettes: http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_715.pdf