challenge 25

Tuesday saw the publication of the latest research by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) into the subject of underage vaping in the UK.

Sadly, the media mostly avoided reporting on the good news that the proportion of under 18s who try vaping has dropped to the lowest level since 2016. There was also little coverage that those who had tried an e-cigarette once or twice in 2019 was lower than in 2015 and that regular use of e-cigarettes amongst 11-18 year olds has declined in 2019 compared to 2018.

We suppose - in this click-chasing world - that bad news sells, but it is disappointing, nonetheless.

Disappointing because the media is very quick to seize on any cherry-picked negative news about vaping from a dwindling band of UK public health professionals who still harbour irrational doubts about the benefits of safer products in this country, many of whom centre their arguments around not only a fear of youths using nicotine, but also that this will lead to a gateway into combustible tobacco use. We can only presume the gateway must be remarkably rusty at the hinges for it not to translate into any prevalence statistics that anyone can actually see in real life.

Both would seem to be fears that are refusing to become a potential problem, let alone a crisis which should make the UK government and a plethora of public health institutions change course and object to e-cigarette use rather than encourage it amongst adult smokers as they currently do.

The research by ASH began in 2013 and has consistently shown that there is no real problem to be solved in the UK regarding youth uptake, although it is always worth being vigilant. This is despite increasing, and now almost universal, knowledge of vaping amongst children, as the ASH report describes.

“Awareness of e-cigarettes amongst young people has risen significantly from 2013, when 67% of 11-18 year olds were aware of e-cigarettes, and 2015 when it reached 93%, and it has remained at this level since then”.

The simple fact is that despite the global panic about e-cigarettes, in a properly regulated market we are seeing safer nicotine products such as e-cigarettes consistently delivering hugely positive benefits for public health. The UK now boasts over 3.2 million vapers and the country’s smoking prevalence is at a record low after dramatic declines which coincide with the period in which vaping has ballooned here. Vaping by children and teens, by comparison, is negligible and mostly made up of those who either already smoked or would have done absent of an alternative. Other countries should take note.

The NNA has made this point recently too. Earlier this month, our Chair addressed industry at the ENDS Conference in London to warn that talking up non-existent problems is playing into the hands of those whose only purpose is to create mischief and obstruct the success of safer products like e-cigarettes in attracting smokers. We also held a press briefing at the Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw to emphasise that flavours are an integral part of the harm reduction offering, rather than an inducement to children. We were happy that the views of academia, independent industry and consumers were brought to the table for that event and issued a press release which you can read here.

Tuesday’s ASH research was also accompanied by their own release which declared that “In Britain young people vape just to give it a try, not because they think it’s “cool””, with Deborah Arnott remarking that:

“Smoking prevalence among children and young adults in Britain has fallen substantially since 2010, which doesn’t indicate that vaping has been a gateway into smoking. And to date there is little sign that vaping is the “super-cool” phenomenon among young people here that it is said to be in the USA.”

We agree, and the evidence agrees with us. We would go further and say the same could be said in the future about other reduced risk nicotine options if only public health institutions would have the imagination to be brave and embrace tobacco harm reduction, starting with abandoning the disastrous EU ban on snus, a product which has led to dramatic success in Nordic countries.

It really is time that the stubborn outliers who still cling to evidence-free assertions of imminent youth nicotine Armageddon stopped flogging their ideological long-dead horse at the expense of real progress for adult smokers who choose to quit via alternatives. It is an ex-equine, it has ceased to be.