Smokeless Cigarettes – Are They Being Encouraged by the ‘Nudge Unit’?

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smokeless cigarettes and the nudge unitThe “nudge unit”, formally known as the Behavioural Insight Team, is led by David Halpern in the Cabinet Office. Despite the fact that many countries have banned the use of smokeless cigarettes that contain nicotine, the unit is encouraging the use of these products in an effort to reduce the number of deaths in the UK caused by smoking and smoking-related illnesses.  

The “nudge unit” is based on the theory that laziness and bad choices are a lot of what makes people human. Therefore, instead of telling or urging people to make healthy choices, politicians must make it easier to make the right choice. Because the “quit or die” advice to smokers has proved ineffective, the unit feels that the electronic cigarette could help those who otherwise would never give up smoking, regardless what they have been told about the dangers.   Each year, 80,000 people die in the UK from diseases caused by smoking, and the unit feels the use of e-cigs, over time, could prevent millions of deaths.

The 1st Annual Report, published in September, encourages the use of this electronic cigarette device that delivers nicotine, but not the toxins and carcinogens found in tobacco smoke. A statement in the report reads, “A canon of behaviour change is that it is much easier to substitute a similar behaviour than to extinguish an entrenched habit …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.”

There are many other alternative smoking products on the market, such as snuff-like Snus, and smokeless tobacco, but these products are illegal in the U.K. Smokeless cigarettes are illegal in certain countries, such as Canada, Australia, Brazil and others, because tests have not been done on the side-effects of these products. Researchers, however, advised the nudge unit that the nicotine in the e-cig is comparable to the harmfulness of caffeine in coffee. A spokesperson for the unit stated that while many countries are working hard to ban the use of the electronic cigarette, they feel it is a mistake to do so.

The professor of epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, John Britton, stated that there are three or four other smoking simulator devices in the works, but companies fear they will be as tightly controlled as prescription drugs. Britton stated this is because “If a manufacturer makes a health claim for anything then it becomes a drug, and drugs have to be regulated with tight controls.” While other nicotine replacement therapy devices are sold as drugs, the electronic cigarette makes no health claims, and therefore, cannot be classified as a drug.

The Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is considering the approval of electronic cigarette use.  If they are approved, the nudge unit will more than likely push to have them sold in stores next to traditional tobacco cigarettes, and sold at a cheaper price.

Halpern pointed out that people often resist ideas at first, but accept them, when explained i.e., seat belt laws.  He stated “A year in, we’re much more confident about how well this can work, and the early trials have also made us much more confident about public acceptability. There’s no doubt it can save many lives and hundreds of millions of pounds.”

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