Dr George Rae Transcript

BBC Radio Newcastle Interview 31/03/2015


GH: Gill Hope, BBC Radio Newcastle presenter

AJ: Alfie Joey, BBC Radio Newcastle presenter

GR: Dr George Ray, Chairman of BMA in the North East


GH: Let’s grab a word with Dr George Rae, chairman of the British Medical Association in the North East. Good morning!

GR: Yes indeed, good morning.

GH: Right, give us the science bit Dr Rae. And with regards to these e-cigarettes, how dangerous could they be?

GR: Well I think one of the points about e-cigarettes is firstly, they’re not regulated and that’s the concern that I as a professional and most professionals have. But you’ve got to realise that there are chemicals within e-cigarettes, particularly a group of chemicals called nitrosamines, and nitrosamines actually can cause cancer.  They can be even more cancer forming than what you’re getting within cigarettes themselves.  So there is the worry about that, and the fact they’re not regulated and you can go to, sort of, outlets and get e-cigarettes, 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 which have got nicotine, and therefore this is a safe substitute.  Well I think what has got to be coming across loud and clear, and certainly I’ve been on the airwaves before and previous months and so forth and other doctors saying look hang on, this isn’t the case, there are chemicals within those e-cigarettes, they are serious chemicals, I’ve given you one example of the nitrosamines, and the fact that now almost you’re making, you know, cigarette smoking, the actual act of having something in between your fingers and up to your mouth and, smoking it and almost glamorising it, making it acceptable, making it something you can actually do, is inherently dangerous because I think, I just picked up on what Alfie said there, it’s not inconceivable that a number of younger people who are smoking e-cigarettes can then go on to actually smoking cigarettes per se and so forth.  So there are lots and lots of concerns about e-cigarettes, and I don’t think you would get many if indeed any doctors coming on to 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.

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

GR: Absolutely, there’s absolutely no doubt about that at all, and that is the whole point, that they are being marketed, as something that is safe and something that is a safe substitute, and that’s not the reality.  I don’t think there have been many clinical trials done on e-cigarettes and anyway, doctors wouldn’t get involved in anything which wasn’t regulated, in other words, you know, you can only get them from outlets, such as for example, pharmacists, whereby we know what is actually in the e-cigarettes, we know the concentrations of whatever is in the e-cigarettes and so forth.  But you know only too well that there are many places where youngsters and people generally can go and get e-cigarettes and at the end of the day, regulation really must come in.  But there is massive concern within the medical profession about the acceptability that seems to be coming across amongst many people who are not aware of what’s in e-cigarettes, they feel it’s an acceptable and a safe substitute for those wanting to give up cigarette smoking.

AJ: That said Dr George we’ve had campaigners on before, very committed to this cause, and one of their arguments is surely it’s better than the alternative? It’s certainly more pleasant than the alternative, and yeah we probably do have a long way to go before we know all the research and we know everything, but surely it’s better than the alternative?

GR: Well actually Alfie, I’ve just actually said that it’s not. I mean I can’t talk about the pleasantness, because I don’t smoke myself and I don’t know what its like to smoke a cigarette or even…

AJ: No, no, I don’t actually mean the experience, I mean, you know passively just from… My mother for example smokes one, she used to smoke like a chimney, and it wasn’t pleasant, and now I don’t particularly mind being around her when she’s smoking these things.

GR: Yeah, yeah, right, that’s what you’re talking about as far as the pleasantness is concerned.  But 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 nobodies going to come on to the air and say, but 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, so I think that you’re not going to find the medical profession relenting on the message that we’re trying to get across about e-cigarettes.

GH: Do you have patients coming in to the surgery who have gone down the e-cigarette route in order to stop smoking traditional cigarettes?

GR: Yeah I have had the occasional patient coming in but to be honest, not a lot, they don’t tell me that, we are still, you know, every week, we will be getting patients coming in and as soon as, you know the, the doctor will ask, particularly with medical conditions, if they’ve got chronic obstructive airway disease and so on, the obvious question is, you know, do you smoke cigarettes.  If people, young people are having missed heart beats, do you smoke cigarettes, because that’s one of the most common reasons for people having missed heart beats.  And if they do, they’re usually honest. There’s not to be honest many people but there’s the occasional person who will say that I smoke e-cigarettes, but my job as a doctor is to you know encourage them to give up cigarette smoking by the traditional ways, which are pretty successful, the patches, sometimes tablets and so forth.

GH: Thanks very much.  That’s Dr George Rae, chairman of the British Medical Association in the North East giving us the doctors’ medical perspective.