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This post is from Rhydian Mann, NNA Associate and ViP Welsh Campaign Manager. Rhydian has been involved in a number of campaigns, and this guest post provides some excellent general (and some specific) advice for arranging, and participating in meetings with Stop Smoking Services and related spheres of influence.

After an extended period of emailing my local (Swansea) Stop Smoking Service and numerous tweets to Stop Smoking Wales, I got an email out of the blue from Christian Heathcote-Elliott. He is one of the main co-ordinators at Stop Smoking Wales. This email was in reply to what some vapers noticed something about a campaign with celebrities, I just happened to contact Stop Smoking Wales directly. I DIGRESS.

Initially, after seeing what Louise Ross (NNA Associate) was doing with Stop Smoking Leicester by becoming e-cig friendly, I knew that it was something that had to be done in Wales. However, I knew that it would be difficult on many grounds. 1 - Stop Smoking Wales is a “sub-division” of Public Health Wales, they agreed with Welsh Labour in regards to the vaping restrictions and 2 - the stop smoking service is provided by the NHS in Wales, which I know has had major funding cuts aimed at SSW. 3 - Initial emails about the idea weren’t even replied to.

So after an email conversation with Mr Elliott, a date and time for a meeting, which I asked for but never thought would be agreed to, was arranged for today (16/05/2016). To prepare for this meeting, I spoke with Sairah Salim-Sartoni of Stop Smoking Bristol to get some ideas on how to deal with those high up in the Stop Smoking Service hierarchy. Those conversations really helped me. As did a group discussion with Sairah and other NNA people like Sarah Jakes (NNA Trustee) and John Summers (NNA Associate), who both have helped Sairah previously.

So my armoury of documents included the recently published report from the Royal College of Physicians, the most recent UKNCSCT presentation from Dr Andy McEwen, one of Sairah’s presentations to fellow advisors etc in Bristol and a presentation that Dr Christopher Russell gave at a conference in New York. So I went into The Temple of Peace and Health, Cardiff (that is indeed the name of the building where NHS Wales and Public Health Wales reside) feeling rather good but not optimistic.

I was greeted by Mr Elliott and a second gentleman, Ashley Gould who is one of the Tobacco Control persons for Public Health Wales. I can’t say I was keen on meeting him at the same time. We moved to a meeting room, had a cuppa and got down to business. This is where things got a bit surprising. Mr Gould did most of the talking, explaining the way SSS work in Wales and that SSW are e-cig friendly. To a point. By this I mean that they have not exactly been shouting about it. They do have e-cigs on what I could possibly describe as an “approved list” of ways a smoker can choose to get off tobacco. Obviously the preferred option from their point of view is NRT products but if a smoker says “my friend stopped smoking with an e-cig, I’d like to give that a try” then SSW are happy for them to do so but only behavioural support can be given. They even agreed that vaping plus behavioural support can lead to a very successful result.

At certain moments, the conversation crossed annoying but familiar grounds such as “we don’t know what’s in them” (a statement I refused to retort because I wasn’t there to argue the science), “renormalising smoking” based on 1 in 5 people smoke tobacco (I did comeback on that one, with the counterpoint that smokers are seen outside certain venues on the streets making them more visible and that it was a pseudo shot in the foot, to which there was mild agreement) and even points on the TPD came up too.

So we moved on, mainly Mr Gould and myself, discussed the pros and cons of a “switch attempt”. I use that term deliberately because SSW and PHW think that if you are smoke-free even with continued nicotine use, that is a result. Here are a few of the points we covered:

  • The Pleasure Principle
  • Stopping smoking needs to be enjoyable
  • Dual users (smoking & vaping)
  • Involving vapers as part of the education system for SSS advisors
  • Involving vapers as a support to smokers.

The top 2 points have been elaborated on elsewhere previously so I won’t cover them. However I’ll try to elaborate on the other 3 points but will try to keep them short.

  • Dual users (smoking & vaping)

Mr Gould suggested that these users of SSW are those that require additional help to make the final steps to becoming “smoke free” or as I put it to him “fully switched”. For whatever reason it may be from circumventing smoke-free laws to not having the confidence to use an e-cig exclusively, I am personally inclined to agree with Mr Gould on this. Extra support is needed for these people.

That brings me neatly onto....

  • Involving vapers as part of the education system for SSS advisors

Afterall vapers have been there and done it themselves, gone through various attempts to get off smoking and making the switch. Vapers are the experts when it comes to using e-cigs, knowledge of the kit, how to overcome the initial switch issues such as cravings for a tobacco cigarettes and so on. The knowledge vapers have, not just individuals but as a collective is vast! This knowledge should be shared with SSS staff for the times where a smoker wants to make a “switch attempt”. We can’t always be there for a smoker on their journey in person but the information we can provide will always be there for them. If SSS staff can understand this information, I think Stop Smoking Wales will be well on its way to becoming fully e-cig friendly, just like Stop Smoking Bristol and Stop Smoking Leicester etc etc.

  • Involving vapers as a support to smokers

This is something that Christopher Russell emphasised in his conference presentation in New York and I think he has it spot on. Showing smokers that after their “switch attempt” is completed using support from the SSW service (typically 7 weeks) that there is support for them via forums, the web and even in vape shops. It’ll show them that there is no need to fret about a possible relapse (the event that SSS really don’t want to happen) because vapers help each other out in times of need with advice on all things vaping related.

The last 2 points certainly got the attention of Mr Gould and Mr Elliott. They were frantically scribbling down notes even after I passed them the applicable documents to support what I said. A subtle nod of agreement between them indicated the potential of including vapers. Once again, I was caught off guard. Did I actually see the penny drop? Perhaps.

So I ended by asking them a few questions myself, it did begin to feel like an interview for a job instead of a chat. I basically asked them; What is the likelihood of getting more vapers in to chat and educate your staff? and When is that likely to be? The short answers were “Yes” and “We can’t say because we don’t want to disappoint you”. I completely understand the second answer.

  1. The infrastructure of Public Health Wales & Stop Smoking Wales is very complicated.

  2. The Welsh Govt may plan to reintroduce the restrictions on vaping.

  3. Changing minds of all their colleagues can take some time.

So that was the first step towards a possible e-cig friendly Stop Smoking Wales. The ball is now in their court. The dialogue has begun, now it is up to PHW and SSW to continue to take more steps in the right direction and continue the dialogue. Will that happen? For vapers and smokers sake, I hope so.