Following the release of ONS figures showing a record reduction in smoking prevalence in the UK, a good deal of health and tobacco control groups have been quick to claim that the effect has been caused by the UK's strict tobacco control policies such as high rates of tax, bans on smoking in public places, display and advertising bans, health warnings and even, bizarrely, standardised packaging, which was only fully implemented less than a month ago in the UK and which still isn't having any discernible effect in Australia, which has had it for 5 years. What they are not mentioning is the effect on those figures of vaping.
All of the policies mentioned above are coercive, or 'push' policies. They are designed to push smokers into quitting. The method smokers ultimately use to quit is immaterial when you are a group that receives funding to create ever more onerous and restrictive push policies to force them to do so. All that matters is that they do.
Vaping is not a push policy. It's not even a 'pull' policy, it's just a pull. Because vaping is a vibrant, diverse, consumer driven, free market choice it is impossible to put it into any sort of 'policy' type box, which is why these groups constantly push for the inappropriate over regulation of it (which would be a 'policy') whilst remaining silent about the effect that it already has on smoking rates.
Some more vape friendly groups have something resembling a policy, which is to tell the truth about relative risk and encourage smokers to switch to the safer product, but even these groups fail to fully embrace vaping, or to recognise its raison d'etre. Some see it only as a means to quit smoking. Others see long term vaping as not ideal, but better than the alternative, if the alternative is relapse to smoking. All of them see the fact that vaping is a pleasurable act in and of itself which may be taken up by consumers, whether or not they have previously smoked, as a threat rather than a benefit.
The snus experience in Sweden should be a lesson to them all. Tobacco and nicotine use in Sweden is in line with other comparable countries, however daily smoking prevalence is now just 5% and as a consequence the rate of smoking related disease is also low. Swedes have achieved this despite the efforts of their tobacco control groups and not because of them. What tobacco controllers need to learn is that free market solutions are attractive to consumers, effectively reduce smoking simply because they compete for the same customer base and cost the state nothing. Except in the case of product standards and quality control, all the regulators have to do is get out of the way.
There can be no doubt that vaping has affected smoking prevalence in the UK via a combination of smokers switching and potential smokers being diverted from that path just as snus did in Sweden. I personally don't care whether tobacco controllers recognise this or not - it's nothing to do with them. Quitting for me was a just a part of my smoking journey - I started, I continued for decades, I quit - all with no help from them.
Vapers and the vape industry came up with our own answer to the problem of the harmfulness of smoking versus the pleasure of nicotine use, but the insistence of many in the public health and tobacco control industry to ring fence anything that resembles quitting for their own means threatens to undermine the potential gains for consumers. To me it is a good thing therefore, that until they understand and accept everything that vaping is and not just the parts that suit their current dogma, they do not acknowledge vaping as a part of their arsenal of weapons against smoking. It's not a weapon, it's an alternative and it's not theirs, it's ours. Furthermore, they have proven time and again that they cannot be trusted with it anyway.
The medicalisation of quitting both in terms of language and regulation is, ironically, probably one of the biggest barriers to consumers adopting safer ways to enjoy the use of nicotine. It's time to take back the ground on quitting and in the meantime, rejoice in the fact that those who might otherwise seek to control vaping are largely ignoring it.
Sarah Jakes - NNA Trustee