Yesterday, Public Health England (PHE) released its seventh independent report on vaping in England, carried out by researchers at King’s College London (KCL), and it brings some encouraging news but also scope for improvement.
In an article on the UK government’s website, PHE announced that not only is vaping now the most popular aid used by smokers trying to quit in England, it is also the most effective, with up to 74% quit success rates in 2019 and 2020. The article declares, boldly, that vaping is now “better than nicotine replacement therapy for stopping smoking”.
There is further soothing news on vaping amongst young people, with PHE stating that “around 4.8% of young people (aged 11 to 18 years) reported vaping at least once a month – the same as last year – and most of these were either current or former smokers”. In fact, in a survey by Action on Smoking and Health which was included in the review, it was found that “not a single [11-18 year old] never smoker reported vaping daily, and only 0.5% were previous users of e-cigarettes”.
Considering much of the rhetoric trumpeted by opponents of reduced risk products centres on fears around youth vaping - and while it is certainly right that we continue to remain vigilant in this regard - these data suggest the answer to those pleading that we should ‘think of the children’ should be “what children?”.
The New Nicotine Alliance very much welcomes this latest review, but along with the good news, it also reports on the damage that irresponsible anti-harm reductionists are causing. As Ann McNeil of KCL observes commenting on yesterday’s report, “What is concerning is that smokers, particularly those from disadvantaged groups, incorrectly and increasingly believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking. This is not true and means fewer smokers try vaping.”
This is a direct consequence of shameful scare stories promoted by those opposed to vaping - regardless of evidence – and is having a tangible negative effect on public health. The lack of willingness to debate by those ideologically opposed to vaping is also increasingly proving that they have no arguments left in the face of yet more clear evidence revealed by PHE yesterday. Our view is that they should embrace new innovative options like vaping and abandon their obstructionist stance before they sink further into the realms of conspiracy theorists.
In the UK we are fortunate that PHE and KCL examine the evidence without prejudice or hostility to harm reduction and it is why we are leading the world on enlightened policy in this area, but we can improve on that to further emphasise the benefits of our approach. For example, PHE draw attention to the disappointing fact that only 11% of stop smoking services supply vaping equipment, despite the superior success they can achieve. We sincerely hope that stop smoking services, healthcare professionals, health and wellbeing managers and policymakers read this report and take note.
The NNA also passionately believes that vaping is just a test case for the principle of tobacco harm reduction and that the UK government should seize the opportunity of Brexit to cast off over-precautionary restrictions on other alternative products such as snus, heated tobacco as well as vaping, along with welcoming the promise that modern products like nicotine pouches can offer. In October, we wrote to the Department of Health and Social Care with our post-Brexit recommendations on this subject which you can read here.
Even more importantly, those governments hostile to tobacco harm reduction, and the WHO, should read yesterday’s PHE review and ask themselves how much more quickly they could drive down smoking rates if they adopted the open-minded and evidence-based approach taken in England.
The UK has seen a remarkable shift in forms of nicotine use in the past decade, with consumers themselves choosing safer products over lit tobacco. As a result, smoking prevalence in the UK has declined at an unprecedented rate at little or no cost to the taxpayer. This PHE report suggests that this should not just continue, but that the scope could be expanded.
The government has pledged to “maximise the availability of safer alternatives to smoking” in its ongoing Tobacco Control Plan (to be updated in July). This evidence shows that harm reduction is beneficial to public health – as is accepted in many other areas of policy - and we should not be shy of doing more of it when it comes to reducing the harms from tobacco use too.