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E-cigarettes in U.K. to be regulated like medicines

LONDONElectronic cigarettes in the U.K. will be regulated like medicines, Britain's Medicines and Health Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said Wednesday in a statement.

The move is being made to make the products safer and more effective in reducing the harms of smoking, the MHRA said.

"Reducing the harms of smoking to smokers and those around them is a key Government health priority," Jeremy Mean, the MHRA's group manager of Vigilance and Risk Management of Medicines, said in the statement. "Our research has shown that existing electronic cigarettes and other nicotine containing products on the market are not good enough to meet this public health priority."

E-cigarettes are battery-operated products that turn nicotine into a vapor that the smoker then inhales.

"While it's best to quit completely, I realize that not every smoker can and it is much better to get nicotine from safer sources such as nicotine replacement therapy," Britain's Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies in the statement. "It's only right (e-cigarettes) are properly regulated to be safe and work effectively."

Last week, Britain's independent health watchdog said smokers unable to go cold turkey should be encouraged to use nicotine products like gum and patches to help them cut down.

A May review of those products from researchers at The Cochrane Library found the odds of quitting are about 80 percent higher with using such treatments, called nicotine replacement therapies.

But, the U.K. watchdog hadn't recommended e-cigarettes, because they weren't regulated at the time . Experts say smokers are at risk from the toxins and tar in cigarettes, not the nicotine.

Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable deaths in England, killing about 80,000 people every year. Once e-cigarettes and other nicotine products are licensed by the U.K. regulator, they will be available for sale as over-the-counter medicines. Britain said it will now push for European law to recognize nicotine products as medicines.

Worldwide, tobacco use causes more than 5 million deaths per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Trends predict by 2030 that more than 8 million annual deaths will be caused by tobacco.

Some manufacturers said they were concerned about the new classification. Damien Scott, commercial manager of e-cigarette maker SKYCIG, said the products are currently self-regulated to ensure they meet consumer standards.

"Medical regulation which could restrict access to these lifestyle products is entirely unjustified," he said.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration announced in 2011 that it would regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products and won't try to place them under stricter rules for drug-delivery devices following a legal battle. The agency's website states consumers of e-cigarettes have "no way of knowing" whether e-cigarettes are safe, how much nicotine and other harmful chemicals are being inhaled or if young people may be more likely to try other tobacco products after using e-cigarettes.

During World No Tobacco Day on May 31, France's Health Minister announced it would extend its 2007 ban on smoking in public to e-cigarettes, citing uncertainties in the public health impact of the products.

The FDA plans to assert regulatory authority over the fast-growing category in the near future. However, e-cigarettes could still be regulated as drugs or drug-delivery devices if they are "marketed for therapeutic purposes" -- for example, as a stop-smoking aid.

As the FDA prepares to put forth regulations, more tobacco companies are now embracing electronic cigarettesto help offset the loss of traditional smokers, reported.

Marlboro-maker Altria Group Inc., the largest tobacco company in the U.S., announced Tuesday new plans for an electronic cigarette called the "MarkTen." Reynolds American also announced a "VUSE" e-cigarette while Lorillard Inc. last year acquired "Blu" e-cigarettes.

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