This week, Public Health England released the first of three reports it had commissioned as part of the government’s Tobacco Control Plan for England. This particular report focussed on how e-cigarettes are being used by the public and revealed some mixed results.
Its main findings were that:
- Regular vaping in under-18s remains low at 1.7%
- Regular e-cigarette use among adults has plateaued and a third of adult smokers have never tried one
- Only 4% of quit attempts made through Stop Smoking Services use an e-cigarette, despite this being an effective approach
Despite PHE emphasising that e-cigarette use is simply not a major problem in this country – as you can see from their graphic above – it was disappointing to see that much of the media preferred to sensationalise the rise in youth vaping rather than the far more significant figure of 0.2% of never smokers aged 11 to 18 being regular users. This tells us that the vast majority of youths are either just experimenting with e-cigarettes or, if they are regular users, have smoked before so could be doing so to quit conventional cigarettes. Even the paltry 0.2% of never smokers is not worrisome if you factor in that many of those may well have been smoking instead in the absence of safer alternatives.
It is disappointing to note that regular e-cigarette use among adults has plateaued, but hardly surprising after the onslaught of irresponsible and misleading click-bait journalism we have seen in the past couple of years each time even minor and obscure negative study results are published. There is still a stubborn rump of ideological opponents of harm reduction in public health circles despite their number steadily tailing off into insignificance, but PHE’s report shows that their regular insincere outbursts are arguably deterring smokers from switching and are harming the public’s health.
The report also goes to great lengths in recommending more smoking cessation efforts to encourage vaping. PHE recommends that Stop Smoking Services should do more to encourage smokers that want to quit with the help of an e-cigarette and calls for stop smoking practitioners and health professionals supporting smokers to receive education and training in the use of e-cigarettes in quit attempts.
While this is to be welcomed, it is important for public health institutions and clinicians to realise that, for many, it is precisely because e-cigarettes are not a medical device that they have been so initially successful. We are pleased that PHE is encouraging Stop Smoking Services to recognise the potential of vaping, but they should also be aware that many smokers would not choose a clinical setting for seeking advice on e-cigarettes and that reputable vape shops have much to offer and should be firmly part of the mix.
All in all, this is a welcome report from PHE although we worry that the focus on youth use of vaping products is distracting from more important aspects of the role e-cigarettes can play to the benefit of public health. We hope this is not in response to the wild irrational panic currently taking place in the USA where attitudes towards less healthy choices are completely different to the UK and where the system of politics lends itself to overblown reactions. The UK is getting the balance mostly right with harm reduction and we look forward to PHE’s other two reports for, hopefully, more encouraging news and recommendations which can carry the success of e-cigarettes for public health further onwards.