E-cigarettes have been a hot topic in the past few years, are they actually a useful aid to help stop smoking or are they just as unhealthy as normal cigarettes? Paul Sandilands, Pulse Insurance managing director, explains how the insurance industry needs to to treat e-cigarettes.
Once upon a time – Life Insurance St Neots
Once upon a time, cigarettes were associated with healthy living which is pretty strange if you think about it now. Recent times have completed changed these views and the created a gap in the market for a ‘healthy alternative’ to smoking, e-cigarettes. A cloud of uncertainty has hovered over these however, will they actually help you to quit smoking or are they just as bad for you.
The publication of a government-backed report calling for e-cigarettes to become available on the NHS has led to increasing calls for life insurers to review their approach to underwriting and pricing smokers.
E-cigarettes have been defined, by the US Food and Drug Administration, as a product to deliver nicotine or other substances in the form of a vapour. Typically they are composed of a rechargeable, battery-operated hating element; a replaceable cartridge that may contain nicotine or other chemicals; and an atomiser that, when heated, changes the contents of the cartridge in to a vapour which can then be inhaled.
Are they safe? Life Insurance St Neots
E-cigarettes are often designed to look like an actual cigarette, cigars and even pipes. For the more discrete users e-cigarettes are also made to look like everyday objects such as a pen or a memory stick, for those who do not want others to notice they are using the product. However, dactyl, a flavouring that is safe to eat can cause a serious lung condition when inhaled in sufficient quantities, has been found in more than three quarters of a sample of flavoured e-cigarettes.
Scientists at Harvard University who conducted the study said that there was an urgent need to assess the safety of the additives in e-cigarettes.
A report, published by Public Health England (PHE) in August, suggests that 75,000 lives per year could be saved if every one of the 8 million smokers in the UK switched to “vaping”.
The numbers certainly are striker and support the underwriting stance whereby smokers are generally charged upwards of 50% more than non-smokers to buy life insurance, while those aged 45 and over are more likely to pay double! But can the industry continue to justify charging increased rates for e-cigarette users? Certainly, the PHE study suggests their use could improve smoking related mortalities.
Brokers and financial advisers have been fast to respond to the latest reports and question the basis for the life insurers continuing to charge increased rates for e-cigarette users, when vapour inhalation devices contain no tobacco and carry none of the risks of smoke inhalation or smoking tobacco. Furthermore, e-cigarettes provide a nicotine fix without the toxic chemicals that go with the real thing. There are now an estimated 2.6 million e-cigarette users in the UK, who see this as a better alternative to smoking tobacco.
The PHE repost suggest that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than real cigarettes whilst recognising that they are not totally risk-free devices but it certainly seems to indicate a step in the right direction. However research suggests that only 7.3% of e-cigarette users have successfully stopped using tradition tobacco products.
Equally there have been growing concerns about the lack of scientific testing that e-cigarettes have been subject to. The British Lung Foundation has expressed several concerns about the long term health impacts of e-cigarettes and several other studies have demonstrated that the flavours used in e-cigs may cause respiratory problems and damage to the immune system.
A group in Tokyo found ormaldehyde and acetaldehyde carcinogens in the liquid produced by many e-cigarette products, the group also found that e-cigarettes can potentially fuel life-threatening drug-resistant pathogens.
Research leader Naoki Kunugita said: “In one brand of e-cigarette, the team found more than 10 times the level of carcinogens contained in one regular cigarette. Especially when the wire (which vaporises the liquid) gets overheated, higher amounts of those harmful substances seemed to be produced.”
in 2015, the WHO advised governments to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to underage people because they posed a serious threat to them. WHO stated that although there is a lack of evidence regarding the damage caused by e-cigarettes, there was still enough convincing evidence to caution certain individuals, including underage people and pregnant women from using the devices. Another WHO study suggested banning the devices indoors due to fears they could be just as toxic as regular cigarettes to bystanders.
This has also caused huge concerns over the popularity over the e-cigarettes with younger people, creating a brand new generation of smokers, with teenagers at risk of being hooked on to e-cigarettes due to the nice flavours that are available to buy, perhaps creating a gateway to traditional tobacco products.
There has also been question marks over the safety of the solution that is vaporised, as it contains potentially harmful substances that are also used in the production of antifreeze and hydraulic fluid. Despite this, production remains entirely unregulated and lacking in quality control measures.
Regulation – Life Insurance St Neots
Governments remain uncertain on how to respond to e-cigarettes. Brazil has banned them completely and Australia has banned the sale of them, however there is a loophole in the law which allows them to be imported from abroad.
In the US, e-cigs are receiving the exact same treatment as tobacco products with stick rules on advertising as well as heavy taxation, while some cities have even restricted the use of them in public places. The EU is also proposing controls on ingredients and strength along with the considering the marketing restrictions.
Opinion remains very much divided as to how to treat e-cigarette users when in comes to life insurance, and as to whether they can be considered to be a step down the road to smoking cessation. While some reductions in rates might be available, most insurers are saying that e-cigarettes have not been around long enough and not enough testing has been done to radically change any pricing approach to users.
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