for ASH news

This week saw the publication of the latest survey by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) into e-cigarette use in the UK which reveals that the number of people using e-cigarettes has swelled once more, despite the best efforts of massed ranks of anti-vaping doomsayers and irresponsible media worldwide.

ASH’s report – the latest annual survey since its inception in 2012 – assesses there to be 3.6 million vapers in the UK now, up from 3.2 million last year. It also reveals that of those there are 1.9 million who have successfully switched from smoking to exclusive e-cigarette use, once again eclipsing the number of people using vaping devices alongside lit tobacco. It is a stunning figure for the fact that there are now over half as many vapers in the country as there are smokers.

Those ideologically opposed to tobacco harm reduction have been throwing the proverbial kitchen sink at vaping in the past year, but fortunately this report shows that it isn’t deterring uptake for many people.

The main points in the new survey make interesting reading:

  • E-cigarette use continues to grow, and an estimated 7.1% of the adult population amounting to 3.6 million people in Great Britain currently use e-cigarettes (vape).
  • Over half (54.1%) of current vapers are ex-smokers, and the proportion has grown year on year, while the proportion of vapers who also smoke (known as dual users) has declined to 39.8% in 2019.
  • The proportion of adult smokers who have never tried e-cigarettes declined rapidly from 2010 until 2014, and continued declining, but gradually, from 2015 onwards. In 2019 it was 34.1%.
  • Only 0.8% of never smokers are current vapers (amounting to 6.1% of vapers).

We are encouraged by these statistics as they illustrate that the UK’s approach to regulation of e-cigarettes is proving to be the right one; once again it demonstrates that a regulatory environment which allows safer alternatives to flourish – along with a government signed up to embracing innovation and new technological solutions – can deliver results.

But, sadly, there are also signs that opposition to harm reduction is having a negative effect. Once again, perception of the harmful nature of e-cigarettes is getting in the way. The ASH report states that “In 2018, for the first time since 2015 at least half the population agreed that e-cigarettes were less or a lot less harmful than smoking (50% in 2018 compared to 43% in 2017). However, this improvement has not been sustained, and in 2019 only 45% agreed this was the case.”. This is regrettable and those who are responsible for the fake concern and many column inches of negative coverage should be ashamed of themselves.

However, there is much positive to take from ASH’s data.

The NNA is not a prohibitionist organisation, we advocate for free choice of smokers to choose safer products – or not - on their own terms, and for availability of reduced risk products to be protected, but all smokers and vapers must be properly informed. The plethora of garish scare stories in the media have obstructed that but it is heartening to see that there is still a significant rise in consumers seeing through the noise and choosing to vape instead. It suggests that there is a culture in the UK of smokers and vapers engaging with each other to share experiences and information independent of the campaign against safer nicotine consumption.

The report also contains a salient lesson to policymakers of what could encourage more to make the switch to vaping if they are serious about reducing smoking rates. Over 50% of vapers now cite “I get a great deal of pleasure from vaping” and “E-cigarettes have improved my quality of life” as their reason for sticking to it rather than relapsing. Only 12% stated the opposite for both questions.

While health organisations frame the choice to use e-cigarettes instead of lit tobacco solely in terms of health, we have consistently advocated that enjoyment of the products is the biggest driver towards permanent use and avoidance of relapse to smoking. Recognising that recreational use of e-cigarettes is a good thing would open the door for far better uptake of reduced risk products and we hope that one day the UK government will concede that this is the case.

It is also a compelling reason why the ill-conceived recent focus on restricting flavours in e-cigarettes should be resisted at all costs in the UK. Governments worldwide should be asking vapers why – as this report shows – a majority of fully-switched e-cigarette users favour vaping over their previous smoking habit, because the answer will resoundingly revolve around the choice afforded by flavours.

If you are one of the estimated 400,000 new dedicated vapers since 2018 detailed in these latest statistics, we are very pleased that you have swelled our ranks in the UK. We have many battles left to fight but the more of us there are, the better. Welcome to all of you.

ASH Factsheet:  Use of e-cigarettes (vaporisers) among adults in Great Britain