Today sees the launch of the second Vapril campaign organised by the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA). The NNA was pleased to be consulted on the initiative in the months leading up to today and we wrote the campaign’s “switch on to vaping plan” which the website accurately describes as “written by vapers for smokers”.
Our contribution was to offer hints and tips from our personal experiences in switching and it is important to highlight why we believe that our input is, indeed, intended to be beneficial to smokers and not yet another hammer to beat them with.
Traditional campaigns aimed at smokers have always focussed on nicotine abstinence and nicotine replacement therapy as the only options; public health organisations have only seen quitting smoking through the lens of clinical treatment without recognising that smokers do not see themselves as being ‘sick’. It is all very well setting up clinics and waiting for smokers to come and ask medics to wean them off lit tobacco, but most find that option unpalatable.
The rapid drop in smoking prevalence in the UK since e-cigarettes have gone mainstream illustrates this very well. Prior to that the decline in smoking rates had flatlined, and tobacco control organisations were scratching around trying to find new angles to get smokers to quit, most of which involved hopeful and unproven policies centred around stigmatisation rather than encouragement.
In fact, the only decline which has mirrored the dramatic reduction in smoking prevalence since vaping became recognised by the public is the uptake of stop smoking services by smokers, with smoking cessation clinics seeing a huge drop in demand since around 2012. As a result, stop smoking services have encouragingly been forced to embrace vaping as an option or become irrelevant.
UK anti-tobacco organisations have increasingly recognised the benefits of vaping with only a few ideological outliers still holding out hope that there might be some disastrous Armageddon to come along and confirm their baseless opposition to tobacco harm reduction.
If you ask smokers why they smoke, they will consistently tell you that it is because they enjoy it. Public health groups can push the argument that they are not actually experiencing pleasure but instead satisfying an addiction, but this approach only speaks to those who are most committed to quitting anyway. If a smoker is absolutely determined to quit, they will do so, but most are not like that and require their enjoyment of tobacco to be replaced by something else. If public health groups wish to speak significantly to smokers they should be doing so by engaging where smokers are rather than from an ivory tower..
As former smokers ourselves, we recognise this and know that reduced risk products can help smokers switch because they can replicate many of the cues of smoking and provide much of the pleasure too, over time. The pleasure aspect is something very much overlooked by most public health bodies – irrespective of whether they support vaping or not - but something that we at the NNA have been emphasising for some considerable time.
The Vapril campaign, although industry-led, should not be dismissed by public health, because it not only speaks to smokers who are looking to choose to quit smoking but is also consistent with recent government advice..
A report by the Science and Technology Committee in August recommending that more should be done to encourage smokers to take up alternative nicotine products was endorsed in full by the government, and last year’s Tobacco Control Plan pledged “to support consumers in stopping smoking and adopting the use of less harmful nicotine products”. Additionally, vaping has been included as an option for smokers seeking to quit by the annual Stoptober campaign for two years now.
Lastly, the VApril campaign can hopefully have an impact in redressing the disappointing decline in perception amongst smokers about the merits of switching to safer products. An avalanche of unscientific scare stories and click-bait media articles promoted by health professionals who should know better has turned many smokers away from the idea of trying vaping to see if it could work for them. Considering the Royal College of Physicians assesses vaping to be at least 95% less risky than smoking, it is to the VApril campaign’s credit that it includes messages like that in its literature along with more populist and accessible advice for smokers who have dabbled with trying vaping but may have been put off before.
TV’s Dr Christian Jessen, a long-time advocate in favour of vaping, has fronted this campaign as he did last year and the NNA is happy to lend our support to him and VApril this time round.
For full information on the VApril campaign, visit their website here.