UK Parliament Endorses E-Cigarettes to Help Smokers Quit

UK Parliament Endorses E-Cigarettes to Help Smokers Quit

Bottom Line: Though some uncertainties remain, e-cigarettes present an opportunity to significantly accelerate declining smoking rates because they are substantially less harmful than traditional cigarettes and millions of smokers are switching to them, with little-to-no "gateway" effect. This would tackle one of the biggest public-health problems that exists today: traditional cigarette smoking. Regulatory and tax barriers to greater e-cigarette use should be reexamined and reduced.

It’s estimated that 2 million people in England have used e-cigarettes and completely stopped smoking and a further 470,000 are using them as an aid to stop smoking. The Royal College of Physicians finds that “large-scale substitution of e-cigarettes … has the potential to prevent almost all the harm from smoking in society.” Public Health England has concluded that “vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking.” E-cigarettes do not contain tar, smoke, or carbon monoxide — the most dangerous parts of smoking.

Concerns that the variety and type of e-cigarette flavors could attract young non-smokers in significant numbers have not materialized. Concerns about second-hand e-cigarette vapor are also misplaced because it poses a negligible health risk. 

Medically licensed e-cigarettes could assist smoking cessation efforts by making it easier for medical professionals to discuss and recommend them as a stop-smoking treatment with patients. Given that mental-health patients smoke significantly more than the rest of the population, e-cigarettes should be recommended to them, so they could continue treatment sessions within the facilities without the interruption of smoking breaks. It is unacceptable that most mental health units ban them.

Many businesses, public transport providers, and other public places do not allow e-cigarettes, prohibiting them along with conventional smoking. But there is no public-health (or indeed fire-safety) rationale for treating use of the two products the same. There is now a need for a wider debate on how e-cigarettes are to be dealt with in our public places, to help arrive at a solution that at least starts from the evidence, rather than misconceptions about their health impacts. 

Regulations on e-cigarette strength and size do not seem to be grounded in evidence and appear to be holding back their use as a stop-smoking measure because they discourage smokers from using them. There should be a shift to a more risk-proportionate regulatory environment, where regulations, advertising rules, and tax duties reflect the evidence of the relative harms of the various e-cigarette and tobacco products available. This would help promote behavior we want in society, namely less traditional cigarette smoking.

Read the full report: “E-cigarettes,” UK Parliament, Science and Technology Committee (August 2018).

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