Revolution in smoking aims to stub out cigarettes – with the help of tobacco firms

New substitutes deliver a hit of nicotine and mimic the sensation but without the lethal effects

Britain is on the brink of a revolution in smoking which aims to eradicate the cigarette.

Click here to view a graphic explaining how the 'e-cigarette' works

Companies, including some of the biggest names in tobacco, are poised to launch a generation of devices that mimic the experience of smoking without the lethal effects.

One, being developed by a 29-year-old Oxford graduate, has attracted the attention of BAT, one of the world's largest tobacco companies, which has bought the rights to market it. A profusion of electronic and other devices has appeared in the past year, thanks to a legal loophole which allows them to be sold freely so long as they do not make any health claim .

An estimated 10 million "e-cigarettes", which are shaped to look like the real thing and simulate smoking by heating nicotine to produce an inhaled mist, have been sold worldwide. Other devices, similar to asthma inhalers, deliver the nicotine as a vapour or powder drawn directly into the mouth or lungs.

UK regulators are considering ways to bring the new devices within the law but campaigners are insisting on "light touch" controls which could make it legal to market them in newsagents and supermarkets alongside cigarettes. Pure nicotine, though highly addictive, has few side effects and a low risk of overdose – it is the tobacco in which it is contained that is lethal.

But the idea has caused alarm among some experts, who say it is wrong to promote nicotine dependency. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, which licenses medicines, has begun a programme of research following a consultation exercise on the risks to consumers from the products and the impact of regulation. It is due to make a final decision on how to regulate them by spring 2013.

The Royal College of Physicians has called for the devices to be made more widely available. In a 2007 report, the college argued for a "harm reduction" approach which aimed to move smokers on to safer substitutes, to supplement the existing therapeutic approach using nicotine patches and gum to help smokers to give up. The Cabinet Office's behavioural insight team has backed the new technology. In its report in September, the unit said: "If alternative and safe nicotine products can be developed which are attractive enough to substitute people away from traditional cigarettes, they could have the potential to save 10,000s of lives a year."

John Britton, professor of epidemiology and director of the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies at the University of Nottingham, said: "There are very few areas where the UK leads the world, but we do on this. We have a government that is considering changes to the way nicotine is sold and marketed which has the potential to save thousands of lives in this country and millions worldwide. No other country is doing this – but a lot are watching."

Responses to the MHRA consultation mostly supported a form of "light touch" regulation which would ensure the devices were safe but would not deter companies by requiring them to conduct expensive trials as for medicines. But some organisations, including local authority regulators, the Trading Standards Institute and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health warned that e-cigarettes were "bypassing all legislative controls" and posed a safety risk to users and a danger to children.

The Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services called for e-cigarettes and similar devices to be licensed as medicines, like nicotine patches and gum. Experts say this would effectively amount to a ban, as manufacturers would not pay for the necessary clinical trials.

Others warn that making the devices widely available could lead to non-smokers becoming addicted or act as a "gateway" to tobacco for children.

Most e-cigarettes are made in China. A survey for Ash, the anti-smoking charity, found one smoker in 10 had tried them and 3 per cent had continued to use them. A spokesman for Ash said: "E-cigarettes have taken off in the last year. Companies are taking the opportunity to market them while they are unregulated. We think light touch regulation is a sensible way forward. Compared to smoking, they are not nearly as harmful. But there is still too much uncertainty about their safety."

Case Study: Ex-Tesco boss backs new 'safe' cigarette

Alex Hearne believes he has cracked the problem that has defied efforts for 50 years – developing a safer, satisfying substitute for the cigarette.

The 29-year-old entrepreneur and inventor, who studied classics at Oxford University, claims to have discovered how to deliver medicinal nicotine into the lungs in a way that does not risk smokers' health.

He says his device, similar to an asthma inhaler, provides "all the psychological cues and sensations of smoking."

He is backed by Sir Terry Leahy, ex-boss of Tesco. His company, Kind Consumer, has sold the marketing rights to British American Tobacco, which has set up an arms length firm, Nicoventures, to boost the device. Nicoventures aims to apply for a licence to allow the device to be marketed as a "treatment" for smokers, like nicotine gum or patches

The tobacco market is worth some £12.5bn a year. Yet spend on nicotine substitutes is £100m and fewer than one in five smokers like the products. Mr Hearne says: "The thing that sets our invention apart... is not just the fact it mimics the psychological rituals and routines of smoking cigarettes, but that it is designed to match the physiological effects of nicotine in-take by smokers."

Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas