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Along with Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa, David Sweanor, NNA associate Clive Bates recently submitted a response to the New Zealand Ministry of Health review into legalising e-cigarettes.

As is customary, Clive and David’s work is exemplary and has been featured online at New Zealand news source Stuff in an article entitled “International anti-smoking campaigners' ten messages on e-cigarettes”. It is a concise guide to the many harm reduction benefits of e-cigarette use - and conversely the dangers of over-regulation - which we can highly recommend all interested parties read.

However, one of their observations is particularly well-drawn and will resonate with many vaping consumers. On the subject of bans on e-cigarette use, Clive and David had this to say:

"It is quite possible that banning vaping in public places or severely restricting it would have adverse effects on health."

It is true that vaping bans are counterproductive. The NNA fundamentally disagrees with such bans as there is no scientific basis for them and they send the incorrect message to a confused public, including smokers and vapers, that e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking. They are also poor public health policy for a number of other reasons, namely:

  • Harm reduction should be embraced by public health professionals if they aspire to achieve stated goals.
  • Bans have a negative effect on those using e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking, or to reduce the amount they smoke.
  • Bans will discourage smokers from switching in future.
  • There is no evidence indicating that e-cigarettes renormalise smoking, attract never smokers or young people, or are a gateway to smoking.
  • E-cigarettes do not discourage smokers from quitting.
  • E-cigarette use does not have a negative effect on compliance with smoke free legislation.

The Royal College of Physicians has urged that health professionals “promote e-cigarettes widely as substitute for smoking” but vaping bans have the opposite effect. Far from promoting e-cigarettes, public indoor and outdoor bans create an impression that vaping is something that should be hidden from view and imply that vaping and smoking are one and the same thing. It is therefore very disappointing when NHS trusts and other public sector organisations – such as Aberdeenshire Council last week -  install e-cigarette bans because this inevitably guides private sector businesses to do the same.

There cannot be many e-cigarette users who have not encountered friends or relatives insisting that vaping is just as dangerous as smoking, and bans on use have a lot to answer for in creating this misperception.

It is a stated goal of Public Health England (PHE) to create “citizen engagement” whereby the public share knowledge that may facilitate healthy options amongst their social group. PHE recognises that “the rise of e-cigarettes is a consumer-led phenomenon, almost entirely unmediated by the healthcare profession”, and has identified vaping as an activity that can be led by citizen engagement for the benefit of public health.

Bans, however, hamper this process because every e-cigarette user will have experience of acquaintances who believe vaping to be harmful on the basis that it is banned in so many public areas.

It is important that the correct messages are being communicated to the public by the health profession. Vaping bans only serve to obstruct the RCP’s advice to promote e-cigarettes widely; reinforce in the mind of individuals that vaping is harmful; encourage widespread bans in private businesses; and place obstacles in the path of vaping consumers when trying to spread the word about the benefits of harm reduction.

If PHE’s aspiration of citizen engagement is to be achieved in the case of tobacco control, it is vital that more is done by the health community to lead by example and tackle the accelerating menace of counterproductive vaping bans. After all, if vaping is banned, many ordinary citizens who know little about such products will be led to believe that they must be dangerous, right?

There are currently 2.8 million vapers in the UK who could be potential PHE ‘citizen experts’ on the subject, but are inhibited by misleading media headlines and conflicting information. The public health community could deliver clearer messages by helping to remove negative signals about vaping, and bans on use are a major obstacle when e-cigarette users talk to smokers and never smokers that they know.

By advising against e-cigarette bans, public health professionals could help to unshackle an army of citizen advocates by removing a prime element of doubt which restricts accurate public understanding of the subject.

You can read the NNA’s briefing paper on bans in public spaces here.

Martin Cullip, NNA Associate