The British government, which previously endorsed vaping as a safer alternative to tobacco smoking, has gone a step further by making vapes a key component of their official anti-smoking strategy.
A recently released report, Towards a Smokefree Generation, acknowledges that ‘Stopping smoking is hard and many smokers are turning to e-cigarettes to help them in their attempts.
“In 2016, it was estimated that 2 million consumers in England had used these products and completely stopped smoking and a further 470,000 were using them as an aid to stop smoking.”
The Department of Health recognises that reducing harm in smokers who cannot quit, for example with e-cigarettes, is an important complementary strategy to existing tobacco control policy.”
“The best thing a smoker can do for their health is to quit smoking. However, the evidence is increasingly clear that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than smoking tobacco.”
Accordingly, the British government has committed to the following:
- Ensuring that safer alternatives to smoking such as vapes are widely available.
- Ensuring that vapes are not routinely banned in smoke-free areas. Individual organisations are encouraged to make their own policies
- Ensuring that smokers are informed about the risks and benefits so they can make informed choices
- Ensuring that Health professionals are provided with support and guidance for assisting smokers to quit with vapes
- Ensuring that a range of safe and effective e-cigarettes are available on prescription
- Continuing monitoring of the impact of these products, including evidence on safety, uptake, health impact and effectiveness
- Promoting the use of vaping technology as a safer alternative to tobacco smoking in the government's anti-smoking advertising
Additionally, Public Health England – the UK government’s flagship health agency, recommends that ‘smokefree’ legislation is not applied to vapes as a way of encouraging smokers to switch. This recommendation is in line with studies which have shown that vapes, unlike cigarettes, pose no material health risk through passive inhalation.
Public Health England also recommends that vapes are not routinely included in the smokefree policies of private organisations and has produced guidance for employers and organisations looking to introduce policies concerning vaping in public to this effect.
We commend the UK for taking leadership in advocating for evidence-based harm minimisation policies that favour safer alternatives to smoking.
Closer to home - it’s time for Aussie policy makers to follow Britain’s lead. According to the latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, there has been no statistically significant fall in smoking rates among people aged 14 and over between 2013 and 2016. By contrast, smoking rates in the United Kingdom and United States, where vaping is legal, have declined considerably - falling from 18.8 per cent in 2013 to 15.8 per cent in 2016 among UK adults and from 17.8 per cent to 15.8 per cent over the same period for American adults.
Satyajeet Marar is the Director of Policy at the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Director of THRNow. He can be followed on Facebook.