An eminent researcher from the London School of Economics, looking into the public and private perils of drugs opposes to the demonizing of e-cigarettes in a presentation at a conference of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS). He also calls on public officials to recognize that alcohol causes far greater damage than the other recreational drugs and more attention should be given to control its harmful effects.

white ecigarette Professor Lawrence D. Phillips, presented his research group’s findings about the relative risks of different drugs at Advances in Decision Analysis, at a conference sponsored by the INFORMs Decision Analysis Society that took place during June 16-18 at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

A current workshop assisted by Prof. Phillips led a group of researchers to write a letter to the World Health Organization advocating against the classification of electronic cigarettes as tobacco. They argued that these devices should be classified as a product for fighting nicotine addiction. ‘It is well known that ‘people smoke for the nicotine, but die from the smoke’, Professor Phillips said.

In presentation, Prof. Philips draws on a study about drugs in the United Kingdom he co-authored in 2010 that was published in The Lancet. ‘Drug Harms in the UK: A Multi-Criteria Analysis’ has lessons that can be applied in the U.S. and across the world, he says. The study results are based on an expert panel that was called upon to use participants’ judgment to assess the relative harm of 20 different drugs. Because the drugs are illegal and data is extremely hard to acquire, the participants relied on their collective experience and understanding to score the drugs and a decision analysis model to combine the judgments.

Comparable results were obtained in 2013 among a group evaluating drug risk in Europe. A .993 equivalence between the two panels, which contained distinctive sets of experts, is considered extremely high. A 2013 expert panel about the relative harm of 12 nicotine products named cigarettes the most harmful, but ranked ecigs near the bottom, in ninth place.

Overall, alcohol is considered the most harmful drug with a total harm score of 72, with heroin having 55, and crack cocaine having 54 in second and third places. Similar results were found when analyzing the continental Europe panel.

Several experts from the workshop, including The Lancet study’s co-author David Nutt, and Edmund J Safra, have called on British and international health organizations like ‘WHO’ to adjust their guidelines about harmful drugs based on the findings. In the 2010 paper, they wrote, ‘the present drug classification systems have little relation to the evidence of harm. They also accord with the conclusions of previous expert reports that aggressively targeting alcohol harms is a valid and necessary public health strategy.’