Mid-August saw the publication of a report by the influential House of Commons Science and Technology Committee on what the government’s approach to vaping and other safer nicotine alternatives should be. It was by far the busiest day of the year for the NNA as our spokespeople were in demand on media from morning till night, as we described in our newsletter that month.
The NNA was well prepared for the report and issued not one, but two, embargoed press releases to coincide with its publication. You can read our welcome for the report here and our release specifically on the issue of snus here. We also published a blog on the day describing the committee’s report as a potential “catalyst for a step change in the UK establishment’s approach to e-cigarettes and other safer nicotine products” which you can read here.
In line with the widespread media coverage the report attracted, NNA representatives were busy all day with media appearances. Supporters Doug Phillips and Niamh O’Farrell spoke on BBC Radio Five Live Breakfast and Channel 5 News respectively, while NNA Chair Sarah Jakes appeared on BBC2’s mid-morning current affairs show, Victoria Derbyshire, which you can watch here.
That wasn’t the end of it, though, Sarah went on to give another 9 interviews to regional BBC radio stations and Martin Cullip also spoke to BBC Radio Scotland. They are too numerous to mention here but you can view all our extensive media spots at the day’s NNA twitter stream here.
In the aftermath, NNA trustee Martin Cullip also wrote an article at Spiked countering the fears of those who were averse to the idea of vaping being allowed in public places following lurid and excitable tabloid headlines.
The opposition to the committee’s common-sense recommendations were mostly doomsayers from one institution because the BBC and others struggled to find people who could find a reason to go against the considered conclusions that Norman Lamb’s group of MPs had come to.
So, it is very encouraging to see that yesterday the government issued its response to the committee’s recommendations and accepted every single one of them.
In all there were seven.
About maintaining the government’s planned annual ‘evidence review’ on e-cigarettes and extending it to also cover heated tobacco products to be overseen by Public Health England and the Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, the government accepted the suggestion and said that it is “firmly committed to more research in this area”.
On reducing barriers to e-cigarette suppliers by way of MHRA being more receptive to vaping, the government also agreed, but added that “it is a commercial decision for e-cigarette manufacturers to make whether or not to apply for a medicinal licence. Despite the lack of a medicinal approved e cigarettes, there are around two and a half million e-cigarette users in England alone, which suggests that growth of the e-cigarette market has not been hindered due to e-cigarettes not being available on prescription”.
The recommendation that NHS England should appoint someone to include provision for e-cigarettes as part of the government’s tobacco control plan was also accepted, as was the proposal from the committee that NHS England “should set a clear central NHS policy on e-cigarettes in mental health facilities”.
Talking of opportunities post-Brexit, the government also broadly agreed that there are advantages that could be explored “in those areas identified by the Committee, such as the 20mg/ml maximum nicotine refill limit, a size restriction of 2ml on the tank, a block on advertising e-cigarettes’ relative harm-reduction potential and the notification scheme for e-cigarette ingredients”.
The government’s response also conceded that the Science and Technology Committee was correct in calling for a tax regime which favours reduced risk products according to a continuum of risk and also – admirably – committed to reviewing the counterproductive ban on snus, stating that “The Government’s goal will remain to achieve a proportionate approach to managing risk, one which protects the young and non-smokers, whilst giving smokers access to products which will reduce harm. As part of this the Government will consider reviewing the position on snus and whether the introduction of this product onto the UK market would promote that kind of proportionate harm reduction approach.”
There is very much to welcome in the government’s response and it is to Sir Norman Lamb’s credit that his gravitas has started a conversation which could lead to significant benefits to the public health of the country by way of a more enlightened thinking about nicotine and ways of reducing harm for those who find it hard to choose to quit smoking.
The NNA heartily congratulates the government on its response to the committee’s report. We hope that the acceptance of the recommendations will one day translate into government policy offering pragmatism for a future in which novel alternatives for smokers are recognised and embraced.
Norman Lamb at the APPG on Vaping, November 2017