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The expense of vaping needs to be decreased for smokers in developing countries as an urgent “human rights issue”, researchers have told a pro-tobacco conference in London.

Addressing a 300-strong audience of tobacco and vaping industry representatives, Helen Redmond, an expert in substance use at New York City University’s Silver School of Social Work, said people in poor countries should not be priced out of nicotine-based items that may potentially help them to give up smoking.

Redmond compared the medicinal qualities of nicotine with cannabis and stressed “the need to get vaping towards the poorest, who require it most”.

“It’s a human rights issue – as being a harm reduction device, prices must fall,” she said. “Nicotine will not be a dirty drug, it helps with depression and anxiety.”

Academics on the 2018 global tobacco and nicotine forum called for additional research in to the possible medical benefits associated with nicotine as well as a focus on the growth and development of innovative nicotine-based items that can provide a “smoke-free society” and minimize the dangerous effects of cigarettes.

Viscount Matt Ridley, an author and member of the home of Lords, joined the chorus of experts promoting vaping as a type of harm reduction, arguing that subjecting electronic cigarettes towards the same workplace restrictions as smoking may be viewed as an infringement of the individual’s human rights.

“We should treat vaping in the same way that we treat access to cell phones,” said Ridley. “The the easy way get people to give up [smoking] is always to innovate with technology”.

Ridleytold the conference that, despite the industry’s continued concentrate on promoting nicotine-based products as a kind of harm reduction, public opinion was moving from vaping due to media “scare stories”. He compared the industry’s plight, in particular in america, to that faced by “bootleggers and baptists during prohibition”.

Clive Bates, director of advocacy group Counterfactual, described the views of anti-tobacco campaigners as “hostile and focused”, accusing them of obtaining rival commercial interests having a goal of “annihilating” the business. Warning from the damage due to “those having a vested desire for causing alarm”, he explained that while critics laboured to create evidence to “maintain the narrative of harm”, technological advances meant the transition to vape-type products was likely to become mandatory as opposed to voluntary.

There are 1.1 billion smokers worldwide and 6 million die annually as a direct reaction to smoking. A further 890,000 people annually die prematurely because of second-hand smoke, based on the World Health Organization.

A single cigarette contains greater than 200 carcinogenic chemicals, as well as the addictive stimulant nicotine. Scientists and academics have so far neglected to reach agreement on advantages and disadvantages of long term nicotine use.

With a plenary session, clinical psychologist Karl Fagerström called for research to the positive benefits associated with nicotine, that he believes can help people suffering from Alzheimer’s and depression. Also, he advised wgferg the industry should move from combustible to nicotine-based products.

“No one is interested in establishing what the advantages of smoking nicotine are,” Fagerström said.

Martin Jarvis, professor of health psychology at University College London, saidthe US was moving towards prohibition-type enforcement, with all the Food and Drug Administration willing to reduce the level of nicotine in cigarettes.

“Society doesn’t understand nicotine,” said Jarvis, “because they believe that it is particularly bad.”

But Jarvis said “describing nicotine to be addictive is justified”, adding that “80% of smokers wished they never started”.

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