Leading UK scientists who specialise in tobacco and tobacco harm reduction have said the risk profile of using nicotine in vaping is the same as the caffeine in a cup of coffee. The statements have been made by the Royal Society for Public Health, Professor John Britton, and Dr Lion Shahab.
In 2010 a tragedy occurred; Mansfield man Michael Bedford was heading off to a party and decided to take along with him a bottle of something he’d bought online. Once there, he opened the cap, poured two teaspoonfuls and swallowed them down with a swift glug of energy drink.
Shortly afterwards his friends looked on as his speech became slurred, he began vomiting and then collapsed. He went on to die in the local General Hospital in what the coroner called “a tragic accident”.
What was in the bottle? Caffeine powder. [see source] Following the heartbreak for his friends and family, nobody was calling for boxes of tea bags, jars of coffee or bars of chocolate to be removed from supermarket shelves.
Caffeine is a naturally occurring alkaloid compound found in plants. In humans, it stimulates the brain and central nervous system, making the user feel alert and warding off a sense of tiredness. Like caffeine, nicotine is also an alkaloid produced in plants as a natural pesticide and delivers similar responses in the body.
Recently in an online interview, Dr Lion Shahab from University College London told viewers: “Drinking coffee is … in a sense, in essence, an addictive behaviour. If you stop drinking coffee after having drunk coffee for a long period of time, you’ll have withdrawal symptoms – you will get headaches and those sort of things – but nobody is arguing that people are therefore addicted to coffee and we should therefore outlaw coffee because there are no other big health consequences. I think the same should be applied to nicotine; if there are no health consequences then I can’t see why it’s a problem if people are using something like an e-cig to reduce their risk compared with smoking.”
The argument that vaping should be considered the same as drinking coffee dates from 2013, and in 2015 the Royal Society for Public Health stated: “Nicotine is no more harmful to health than caffeine” [source].
Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of the Royal Society, said: “Getting people onto nicotine rather than using tobacco would make a big difference to the public’s health – clearly there are issues in terms of having smokers addicted to nicotine, but this would move us on from having a serious and costly public health issue from smoking-related disease to instead address the issue of addiction to a substance which in and of itself is not too dissimilar to caffeine addiction.”
It’s the theme that Professor John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham, continued when he was interviewed by the BBC’s Science Focus magazine [source].
When asked about the potential for nicotine to damage the cardiovascular system, he responded: “No…If you look at the general physiological profile of effects of nicotine on the body, it’s on a par with caffeine. So, you have maybe 80 per cent of the British population being addicted to caffeine. I’ve had discussions with people telling me how electronic cigarettes are harmful because they contain nicotine while drinking coffee.”
Indeed, back in 2013 [source] Professor Britton said: “Nicotine itself is not a particularly hazardous drug. It’s something on a par with the effects you get from caffeine. If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started smoking e-cigarettes we would save 5 million deaths in people who are alive today. It’s a massive potential public health prize.”
So, another arrow for the quiver if anybody ever asks you about the addictive quality of vaping.