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GUEST POST FROM TERRY WALKER, NNA ASSOCIATE

In March, I was looking forward to a local dance event I had planned for the evening but became ill and ended the day in an Acute Medical Unit for the night rather than “tripping the light fantastic”. The cause was an infection which required a long period on antibiotics.

The hospital concerned had a strict no vaping rule which I challenged each day to provoke a meeting with senior staff until I was interviewed by Matron and Ward Manager. Far from treating my concerns seriously, I was told that what I had done was classified as Aggression to Staff”! I did not think that attempting to convey guidance from Public Health England could be classed as shocking behaviour, so I explained my research into vaping since 2012 and told them that I wished to offer my services to their Hospital Trust, and work with their team to update their policy on vaping, which was sadly out of step with current advice.

To their credit, they listened to my concerns and promised me a meeting with the Stop Smoking Sister. Sadly, the meeting never materialised but, in the meantime, I requested a copy of their vaping policy.

As is disappointingly common, there wasn’t one. Instead, they had simply added e-cigarettes to their smoking policy to say that vaping was only allowed in a smoking shelter and not within any car or building. This had been amended in mid-2018 and was not due for another review until 2023!

I suppose I should not have been surprised even though it was as far back as July 2016 when Public Health England said that workplace policies “should make clear the distinction between vaping and smoking” and that “it is never acceptable to require vapers to share the same outdoor space with smokers”. One can only assume this hospital had not noted this advice or, worse, ignored it.

So, I wrote to the Chief Executive of the NHS Trust to offer my services in assisting them in reviewing their policy to bring it more in line with latest guidance and to align with the government’s Tobacco Control Plan. Encouragingly, he replied to thank me for my message and to say he would “welcome some discussion on this for a future update of the policy” and forwarded my message to those who have the relevant responsibility.

Was my hospital stay fortuitous? Only time will tell. However, it does go to show that citizen advocacy can have an impact if conducted in the right manner.

I am an 87-year-old retired R & D scientist who smoked strong, unfiltered cigarettes for 69 years before making the switch to vaping in 2012. At that time, I was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), the same disease which caused the death of my only son at the age of 47. Since then my lung function has improved immeasurably.

There can be no doubt that for those of us who cannot, or choose not, to live without nicotine, and wish to enjoy the tactile, oral and psychological elements associated with smoking, electronic cigarettes are a much safer alternative, being orders of magnitude less dangerous to our health than inhaling the products of combustion arising from smoking tobacco.

Some who enjoy nicotine may choose to continue smoking, but there are many who – like me – would find great benefit in switching to something far safer. A hospital, therefore, should be the very last place where such a decision is frowned upon.

I am hopeful that the NHS Trust will see sense and change their policy to be more welcoming to vaping, just as the UK government and its public health institutions have done. If nothing else, it has started a conversation amongst a group who had been blindly unaware of the advice currently available from those higher up the public health chain.

On my last cruise I again challenged the no vaping rule on an area of deck not designated for vaping. When a deckhand came over and “chastised” me, saying that is not allowed here I said “ I know, and I am here to stop that”. He then just walked away. I would urge my fellow vapers to challenge this ruling wherever they can as this will not only help awareness, but get the rule changed in the future.

So, if you see a vaping policy that is wrong-headed, it could well be worth politely enquiring as to why.  If I can do it, so can you.

Terry Walker, NNA Associate

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NNA Associate Terry Walker meets with Hon Lik at the GFNTerry Walker (right) with Hon Lik, inventor of the e-cig, at the GFN 2017

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