The inquiry will address gaps in the understanding of e-cigarettes and assess the suitability of regulations.
“All disruptive technology challenges regulatory frameworks,” said Derek Yach, head of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, which is part-funded by Philip Morris International. “E-cigarettes require a rethink of regulatory philosophy.”
Tobacco companies, including the UK’s BAT and Imperial Brands, are pouring billions into researching and marketing cigarette alternatives, as the popularity of smoking dwindles across the developed world. Many in the public-health community remain wary of Big Tobacco’s involvement in developing safer products.
While e-cigarette sales have grown rapidly, regulations are an obstacle to further growth. Some countries — including Australia, Brazil, and Japan — have banned the sale of e-cigarettes altogether, while US Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, has said e-cigarettes have an important role to play in the war on tobacco.
The UK health charity, Action on Smoking and Health, welcomed the review.
“While e-cigarettes are helping smokers quit, they are not a stand-alone solution to the tobacco epidemic,” said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the group. “It’s important that the evidence is considered in the context of tried-and-tested policies.”
The UK has taken a relatively lenient regulatory approach, which has paved the way for the country’s e-cigarette market to grow to £1.1bn, according to researcher, Euromonitor.
The UK inquiry will also examine the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking and whether or not they normalise smoking.
BAT forecasts that revenue from devices such as e-cigarettes, and those that heat tobacco without burning it, should exceed £5bn by 2022.
The relative health benefit of heated tobacco products was questioned earlier this year, in a study that found that they release chemicals linked to cancer, sometimes in higher concentrations than conventional cigarettes.
Bloomberg and Reuters