Last November, the Freedom Association sent freedom of information requests to all UK councils requesting details of their policy towards e-cigarettes and produced a comprehensive report. The results were depressing but offered a snapshot of how council smoke-free policies were routinely including vaping along with smoking, despite guidance from Public Health England advising otherwise.
A year on, the Freedom Association has today released a follow-up report, based on the same questions as last year, to gain a sense of how things have changed in the intervening period. It is disappointing to note that, if anything, the overall environment for vapers working in local government has deteriorated rather than improved.
With evidence supporting vaping as a tobacco harm reduction tool accelerating in the past year, and with the government’s Tobacco Control Plan in July highlighting less harmful nicotine products as something to be embraced, it is puzzling that this information does not appear to be trickling down to authorities who are tasked with administering national public health strategies at a local level.
Public Health England guidance for all workplaces is that there is no health-based reason why vapers should be herded outdoors, let alone forced off the grounds of their employer or instructed to only use smoking shelters, yet this advice is not getting through.
Today’s report shows that there is a local authority information deficit surrounding e-cigarettes which is obstructing national efforts to increase awareness of their benefits. If the Tobacco Control Plan is to see results more widely, it is imperative that local authorities understand the beneficial role that vaping can provide for their public health obligations.
As NNA associate Clive Bates commented on reading today’s report:
“The message to councils is ‘think before you ban’. When people are vaping, it’s almost always because they’ve quit smoking, cut down or are trying to quit. Given it’s barely noticeable in most situations, maybe councils should stop treating vapers like pariahs, get behind their efforts to quit smoking, and consider the effect of forcing them back outside with the smokers."
Unfortunately, we can see from the survey of council policies on e-cigarettes that they are stuck in a punishment mindset and currently showing a lack of regard for the welfare of their staff who are choosing to switch from smoking to vaping. They need to realise that there is another, better, way that would make a significant proportion of their staff healthier, happier and maybe even more productive.
We would urge Public Health England and the Department of Health to redouble their efforts towards educating local authorities about the clear benefits of e-cigarette use, and urge local authorities to research the subject more thoroughly.
There is a plethora of positive evidence out there from well-respected organisations such as Cancer Research UK, Public Health England and The Royal College of Physicians, amongst others, that e-cigarettes are a good thing. Councils just need to be made familiar with it.