Health Canada has blocked sales of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, even though the devices are readily available in the United States.  I previously commented on the agency’s unfounded opposition to tobacco harm reduction here.

This week, Dr. Gaston Ostiguy, medical director at the Montreal Chest Institute’s Smoking Cessation Clinic, told Health Canada that “it’s time to authorize the sale of electronic cigarettes.”  His stern admonition, published as an open letter in the Montreal Gazette, was co-authored by tobacco research and policy experts from Canada, Switzerland, Italy and the United Kingdom.

Dr. Ostiguy objected to the general obsession with tobacco prohibition, noting that: “unfortunately, it is wishful thinking that one day we will completely eradicate nicotine use.”  He referenced a report that I have often cited in my lectures and blog posts:

In a landmark report published in 2007, the Royal College of Physicians makes a compelling case why harm reduction should no longer be ignored by health authorities to lower the death and disease caused by tobacco use.

Dr. Ostiguy summarized the Royal College’s findings:

The bottom line:

Dr. Ostiguy noted e-cigarettes’ significant harm reduction benefits and their potential, but unproven, risks.  He called on Health Canada to establish appropriate regulation “so that good manufacturing practices are followed to protect consumers and that sales to minors are forbidden. However, any excessive regulations that could make it too difficult to communicate about the reduced risks of these products or to access them should be avoided.”

That is a message for FDA regulators, as well.

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