Today is No Smoking Day, an annual event which seeks to encourage smokers to consider making an attempt to quit. This year’s theme is “Don’t give up on giving up. Every time you try to stop smoking, you’re a step closer to success.”
As the theme suggests, many smokers have made repeated attempts to quit without achieving their target. Currently, nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) options such as patches and gum are the first products offered to smokers and often fail to lead to the desired conclusion. It is good that vaping is increasingly recommended by smoking cessation services and the NHS but often it is considered only as a last resort.
We believe that people who smoke stand a much better chance of stopping smoking if they are comfortable in doing so, which is why we advocate for wide availability of reduced risk products as options for those who choose to quit. Combusted tobacco is the cause of harms, not nicotine, so devices which deliver nicotine in a safer manner should be widely promoted.
Unfortunately, we feel that current alternatives are being unnecessarily limited and that many smokers are either unaware of the products or have been misinformed about their safety and effectiveness.
Studies have shown that vaping is more effective for helping smokers to quit than traditional NRT and therefore public health organisations should be more willing to recommend vaping products to smokers, not just when all else fails. Many smokers are not comfortable with the clinical nature of NRT and smoking cessation services, as they do not consider themselves ill and requiring medical treatment but could more easily quit if reassured that a visit to a vape shop is not something they should be wary of.
Additionally, although UK authorities should be applauded for leading the world in seeing the benefits of e-cigarettes, which has brought very successful results by way of a significant decline in smoking prevalence in the past ten years, vapes are not the only lower risk choice out there.
It has been disappointing to note the reluctance of the UK government in recent months to fully recognise the potential of products such as nicotine pouches and heated tobacco, and it does not make any sense to perpetuate the European-wide ban on snus now we are no longer in the EU, as seems to be current government policy.
For smokers to be spared repeated failures, as this year’s No Smoking Day tacitly concedes, there needs to be better awareness given to the full range of reduced risk products on the market, not just the ones that government feels at ease with.
Many smokers who have tried vaping but found that it does not work for them may fare better with the more tobacco-like experience of heated tobacco, but as advertising of these products is banned, large sections of the smoking public are simply unaware that they exist. Nicotine pouches are on sale as a consumer product but there is little information about them from health groups as to how they may help people to quit combustible tobacco.
There also needs to be a more concerted campaign to counter the misinformation and confusion about reduced risk alternatives. The public has been so bombarded by scare stories about vaping that Public Health England’s latest Vaping in England report stated that 38% of current smokers believe vaping is as harmful as smoking when we know it is orders of magnitude safer. There is similar, if not worse, negative coverage of heated tobacco, especially, but also nicotine pouches.
Lastly, it is also important to understand that smokers continue to smoke because they find it pleasurable. Reduced risk options which can replicate or exceed the enjoyment smokers get from combustible tobacco are more likely to lead to quitting. Not all people are the same and what works for some may not work for others, so all safer nicotine products have a role to play in order to maximise the number of people who successfully transition away from lit tobacco.
No Smoking Day’s theme is a good one, as it is right to encourage persistence if a person who smokes would rather not. However, for best results, we believe that all safer nicotine products should be made widely available, including lifting the ban on snus; smokers should be made fully aware of the variety of options on the market; and there needs to be far more emphasis on debunking misinformation about all reduced risk products.
If we want to help smokers to fast-track their way out of smoking, instead of enduring numerous failed attempts, let’s make every choice accessible and limit none.
To learn more of how we believe tobacco harm reduction can help more smokers quit and contribute to the Smokefree 2030 goal, read the 20 proposals we put forward to the government’s Independent Tobacco Review here.