Dr. George Rae, chairman of British Medical Association Northeast, made reckless comments about e-cigarettes in a March 31 BBC radio interview, available here. I highlight Rae’s most egregious claims in the transcript provided by Clive Bates.

Interviewer: Give us the science bit: How dangerous could they be?

Rae: …You’ve got to realize that there are chemicals within e-cigarettes, particularly a group of chemicals called nitrosamines, and nitrosamines can cause cancer, and they [e-cigarettes] can be even more cancer-forming than what you’re getting within cigarettes themselves.

Obviously, as a doctor, that is causing me concern, because there is the perception by obviously many people that, ‘well, I’m not smoking cigarettes, which have got tar and have got nicotine, and therefore, that this is a safe substitute.’ Well what I think what has got to be coming across loud and clear, and I’ve been on the airwaves in the previous months and other doctors [are] saying ‘look hang on, this isn’t the case, there are chemicals within those e-cigarettes and these are serious chemicals’ and I’ve given you one example, the nitrosamines.

So there are lots and lots of concerns about e-cigarettes. I don’t think you’ll get many, if indeed any, doctors coming on the radio and saying ‘Look, it’s ok. They’re an acceptable substitute and let’s just go with it.’ I think nothing could be further from the truth.

Interviewer: We often hear about tar, you know in the advertisements from years ago, it’s all about the tar causing the problems. But with e-cigarettes, if there’s different types of chemicals, by the sounds of it, they can cause the same types of problems.

Rae: Absolutely! No, there’s absolutely no doubt about that at all. That is the whole point. They are being marketed as something which is safe and a safe substitute, and that’s not the reality. I don’t think there have been any clinical trials done on e-cigarettes. And anyway, doctors wouldn’t get involved in anything which wasn’t regulated. [BR note: The BMA spokesman ought to be aware of the growing body of scientific evidence here].

Interviewer: But surely it’s better than the alternative [smoking]?

Rae: No, it’s not better. Because what I’m actually trying to get across and I’ll say it again, there are potentially more cancer-forming chemicals within e-cigarettes than you’ve actually got in cigarettes, per se, themselves. Now nobody’s going to go on the air and say, you know, that is better for you – it’s not! It’s actually a bit of a time bomb that people are actually unaware of. I think you are not going to find the medical profession relenting on the message we are trying to get across on e-cigarettes.

The British Medical Association ought to assure that its spokespeople are properly educated and sticks to the facts on such an important public health matter.

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