The last few weeks have not been good for electronic cigarette companies. Pulmonary diseases associated with these devices that have developed more than 500 patients in the United States have generated a wave of concern. Michigan was the first state in that country to react first days of September announced that it would ban liquids with flavored nicotine.
The Food and Drug Administration of that country (FDA) joined the alerts and also announced the possibility of withdrawing flavored cigarettes from the market while doubts about their health consequences are cleared. Walmart, one of the largest supermarket chains, was the last to make drastic decisions. Last Friday he said he would not sell these products in his stores.
“In view of the recent complexity and uncertainty surrounding the regulation of electronic cigarettes at the federal, state and local levels, we will stop selling electronic products containing nicotine at the Walmart and Sam’s Club sites,” said one of the spokespersons. ( Read the second installment of this report: “Electronic cigarettes: what does science say?” )
In Colombia the situation is very different. Today electronic cigarettes are still freely sold in multiple stores. They are also usually promoted in the streets with large advertising notices. Many users prefer to buy them on the internet, where in pages like Mercado Libre they acquire them without any restrictions. Electronic Nicotine Management Systems (SEAN) and Similar Nicotine-Free Systems (SSSN) are the names by which they are known in technical jargon.
However, given the increasing evidence that warns about the possible risks of these devices, there are more and more attempts to establish clear rules on their commercialization. In fact, there are two bills in Congress that seek to clarify who can sell them and under what conditions.
One of them was proposed by the representative to the Neyla Ruíz Chamber (Green Alliance Party), but so far it has not been debated. The other is promoted by Senator David Name (Party of the U) and a few weeks ago it was approved in second debate. However, their discussion aroused a controversy between health professionals and businessmen that seems far from being resolved.
In the eyes of Blanca Llorente, scientific director of the Anáas Foundation, the bill has a very valuable point: “It seeks to include electronic cigarettes in Law 1335, which is where the rules on the consumption and sale of cigarettes are specified. That is, they could not be used in enclosed spaces such as discos and the companies that sell them could not advertise either, ”he explains. Although, he says, it still has technical details that need to be resolved, “if they embrace the concept sent to them by the Ministry of Health, it is a good attempt at regulation.”
In that document, signed by Minister Juan Pablo Uribe, that entity collects some of the available evidence on these devices. In one of his conclusions he warns that “the statement that ‘electronic cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking’ is not true.
Many toxic substances have been found in the vapor released by the E-Cig. Among them there are substances that cause lung and other organ cancer, as well as respiratory infections and cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, it is claimed that there is no scientific evidence to prove that the electronic cigarette is safe for consumers. ”
Later on, the Minsalud admits the enormous challenge that the regulation of these cigarettes has meant. “The SEANs”, he writes in the document he sent to Congress, “have become a regulatory challenge for this Ministry, due to the vagueness in their chemical composition.
The health damages they generate are increasingly proven and given the exponential increase in the commercialization and publicity of these in the Colombian market Existing legislation, specifically health, is insufficient to effectively control all the economic cycle of the product (production, commercialization, sale, consumption, advertising and promotion), which has restricted acting in order to provide recommendations ”.
To fill these gaps one of its recommendations is that the popular Law 1335 (which regulates the consumption, sale, advertising and promotion of cigarettes) be extended and cover these new items. “Tobacco products, their derivatives, substitutes or imitators” is the category that suggests to regulate them.
Among the deck of arguments of the Ministry there are several that generate concern. The 2017 Tobacco Survey, for example, showed that 15.4% of college students had experience with the use of electronic cigarettes, especially in urban areas such as Medellín and Bogotá. In addition, says Minsalud, the prevalence of its use in university students is high. 16.1% had tried it once in their lifetime, according to the III Andean Epidemiological Study on drug use in this population. “Colombia is the second country with the highest consumption of this type of products, after Ecuador,” he writes.
Francisco Ordonez is one of the people who has opposed some of the points of the law promoted by Senator Name. He is the president of the Colombian Association of Vapeadores (Asovape), an organization that was born about 3 years ago and that brings together, he says, about 600 users and about 14 stores that sell electronic cigarettes.
In recent weeks Ordonez has appeared on multiple occasions in the media. Also, through an agency and several press releases, he has promoted his position and interviews. His point is summed up in one sentence: “We strongly disagree that the Nicotine Electronic Management Systems are regulated and categorized under the condition of tobacco.”
Although it is clear in pointing out that he agrees not to sell these cigarettes to minors and to warn that they have no relationship with the tobacco industry (“they do not finance us or we would accept them in our association,” he says), his principal The argument is similar to what tobacco companies usually use.
“These devices are the most successful damage reduction tool that has managed to remove more than 42 million people from around the world from smoking. We have a lot of scientific evidence that supports our arguments. ”
It is a security that, as this newspaper showed, contrasts with what the world’s leading public health experts think today. Last Friday, in fact, several Colombian organizations and scientific societies joined together to express their conclusion on this debate.
“It is not prudent, nor responsible to assume the harm reduction approach, when the impact that the impact will have on the long term is still unknown use of PTC and SEAN / SSSN in the health of smokers, former smokers, as well as in people passively exposed to the aerosols of these products, since they contain substances that are toxic and carcinogenic. ”
The statement was signed, among others, by the Colombian Association of Scientific Societies, the Colombian Association of Pneumology and Thoracic Surgery, the Faculty of Health Sciences of the U. Icesi, Red Papaz and the Colombian League Against Cancer.