For a long time now, the NNA has warned that bans on vaping in public and private places are harmful to the success that use of safer nicotine products can provide for the benefit of the public’s health.
It’s simple logic. The UK smoking ban in 2007 was designed by public health advocates to send a message that second-hand smoke is harmful to bystanders, and the same organisations have since sought to emphasise the threat of exposure at every opportunity. The result is that the wider public now believe that they can be harmed by smokers and, in turn, smokers believe that they are not only harming those around them, but also many now have adopted an acute belief that their habit is not doing them any good.
Most people have a great faith in policymakers to only ban behaviour if it has been proven to be harmful, so when vaping is banned in publicly accessible venues, there is an implied assumption that it is as dangerous as smoking. Why, after all, would state organisations and private venues act so drastically if that is not the case?
The NNA has argued against this huge downside to arbitrary – and often lazy - vaping bans consistently in the past few years to anyone who will listen. We gave evidence to MPs to that effect as well as urging public health groups supportive of reduced risk products to consider the negative connotations that such bans can have on the public’s understanding and to do more to counteract it. As recently as June, our Chair also suggested to industry at the ENDS Conference in London that they should be using their resources to campaign against vaping bans which damage public perception still further.
Now, it seems, public health research agrees with us. A newly-released study from the Indiana University School of Public Health sets it out very clearly:
Adults living in the states with an aerosol-free policy (including vaping in legislative smoking bans) were less likely to use ENDS (e-cigarettes) compared with those living in the states without an aerosol-free policy, controlling for individual- and state-level covariates (adjusted odds ratio = 0.79, 95% confidence interval = 0.64, 0.97). Stratified analyses showed that the association varied by age group; the statewide aerosol-free policies was associated with lower odds of ENDS use only in adults aged 25-59 but not young adults (aged 18-24).
In simpler words, where comprehensive vaping bans apply, adult smokers are less likely to take up vaping as an alternative.
The deficit in understanding of the safer nature of vaping in the UK has been spoken about for quite some time. Cancer Research UK has long expressed concerns that public perception about the relative safety of e-cigarettes compared to smoking is declining rather than increasing, and evidence submitted to the government’s Science and Technology Committee by the Royal Society of Public Health described the deficit in understanding very well:
Research has shown that perceptions of harm can indeed inhibit the use of e-cigarettes among smokers, and this barrier will only be exacerbated if the concerns of the public go unaddressed.
The most accessible message that the public sees about vaping is when a venue they frequent states that e-cigarettes are banned just about everywhere and treated the same as cigarettes. The subliminal take from that will always be that it is harmful both to vapers and those around them, and that there is no benefit to be derived from switching to a safer product. No amount of stressing the safer nature of vaping from public health groups will ever be as powerful an opinion-former to the general public as a prohibitive and dramatic “no vaping” sign or announcement on a public tannoy.
This unintentional and irresponsible implied negative messaging needs addressing urgently, and this new research emphasises just how damaging it is.
Sadly, the public health researchers in this case come from a deeply flawed viewpoint that stopping smokers from vaping is a good thing. However, their ignorance does not disguise the clear evidence from observed policies that vaping bans are actively deterring smokers from contemplating vaping instead.
What is required from more enlightened public health advocates is to be more pro-active in recognising the threats that vaping bans present. Our Challenging Prohibition campaign was designed to highlight negative messaging from organisations – public and private – who are blithely unaware of how their policies are harmful to the public, and often installed without any research and a distinct lack of care about the consequences.
We have a great opportunity in the UK to drive global acceptance of reduced risk products like e-cigarettes. To do that, it is incumbent on those in public health who are amenable to vaping – if they are serious - to redouble efforts towards recognising the threat of vaping bans and actively objecting to them.
This latest research succinctly shows that bans on vaping in public venues are an obstacle to adult smokers switching. It agrees with the NNA’s consistent messaging that bans are harmful and is now officially recorded in the literature. We hope that those in public health who believe in harm reduction will take this more seriously and dedicate resources to tackle the threat of bans which have no evidential, moral or health-related justification.
"Vaping welcome” artwork, kindly designed for NNA by Dan Pidcock, is available to download here.