The first official medical e-cigarette was developed by the tobacco product company British American Tobacco

British American Tobacco has abandoned its eVoke e-cigarette – the only vapour product licensed as a smoking cessation medicine in the UK. Citing technical difficulties in scaling up for full-scale production, the company said yesterday that eVoke is “unlikely to see the light of day.”

Tobacco controllers “disappointed”

Leading tobacco control expert Professor Linda Bauld, of Stirling University, said she was disappointed by the decision as she would have liked to see a vapour product available for prescription on the NHS. However, she also complained that it wasn’t ideal for a tobacco company to be making a pharmaceutical product, and alleged that BAT’s heart wasn’t really in it.

To be licensed as a pharmaceutical product, eVoke had to demonstrate that it could deliver consistent doses of nicotine with each puff and show proof for the health benefits it claimed – in this case, being a lower risk product than cigarettes and helping smokers to quit. The license was granted two years ago, but since then BAT has been quiet about progress. This led many to suspect that the company had only licensed the product as a proof of concept.

BAT says technology has advanced

According to BAT themselves, technological progress has made eVoke obsolete. The product is basically a high-quality version of an early cigalike design, and that means its performance is significantly poorer than modern e-cigarettes. The company’s perception of what’s required has also changed. “We were never really interested in prescription products,” said David O’Reilly, the company’s scientific director. “At that time, the medicinal route was the only route to market, but smokers do not see themselves as patients.”

Now, O’Reilly says, there are alternative routes, and BAT are developing better products focused on consumer choice and higher performance. Without the need to go through the slow and complex licensing process, these can actually get into the hands of users before they’re obsolete.

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