Andrew Allison is Head of Campaigns at The Freedom Association.

The Royal College of Physicians stated earlier this year that “the hazard to health arising from long-term vapour inhalation from the e-cigarettes available today is unlikely to exceed five per cent of the harm from smoking tobacco.” In other words, e-cigarettes are at least 95 per cent safer than smoking combustible tobacco – cigarettes.

Public Health England (PHE) agrees, and in July this year created a framework for organisations that will assist them in creating vaping policies. This framework includes recommendations that organisations make a clear distinction between smoking and vaping, support smokers to stay smoke free, and ensure policies are informed by the evidence on health risks to bystanders.

This last recommendation is important because despite some scare stories, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology has stated that the risk to bystanders from second hand vapour is negligible. In other words, there isn’t a risk, and policies should reflect this and not succumb to ignorance and prejudice.

Bearing all the above in mind, we decided, through freedom of information requests, to find out what the vaping policies are in every council in the UK. The main findings are:

  • 112 councils (29 per cent of those who responded) require vapers to use designated smoking areas in all or some circumstances, despite that fact that vapers are not smokers – indeed the vast majority of those who vape do so as a means of quitting combustible tobacco or to reduce the amount of tobacco they consume. Two included in the list required vapers to vape in close proximity to designated smoking areas.
  • 335 councils (87 per cent of those who responded) have the same (or effectively the same) policy on vaping as they do on smoking.
  • Just one council – the London Borough of Enfield – allows vaping indoors and actively encourages staff to vape instead of smoking combustible tobacco, in line with recommendations from Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians.
  • Three other councils (Belfast, Chiltern and South Bucks) allow vaping at desks; however, they do so because currently there isn’t a policy in place.

The levels of ignorance amongst councils the length and breadth of the country is breathtaking. For example, you cannot smoke an e-cigarette. I know the name ”e-cigarette” doesn’t help in this perception, but you do not light-up an e-cigarette – it is not combustible – and it does not contain tobacco. It does contain nicotine, which although not harmless, is certainly the least harmful component of a cigarette. It’s not the nicotine that kills you, it’s the smoke, or the tar. Despite this, Glasgow Council said that e-cigarettes “must be smoked externally in line with current policy”. Ipswich Borough Council said that it considers the use of e-cigarettes to be a form of smoking, and Harlow Council states that the “same procedures apply to both types of smoking”.

Some councils are openly hostile to vaping. Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire states that it ‘supports the aim of “de-normalising” smoking. The Council supports the tobacco control professionals who consider that the acceptance of e-cigarettes will undermine the now widely accepted view that smoking is unacceptable.

The professionals they are listening to are clearly not from PHE which said earlier this year that “it is never acceptable to require vapers to share the same outdoor space with smokers. Where a designated outdoor smoking area has been provided in a public place or workplace, vapers should be allowed to vape elsewhere.”

Councils may not wish to have arguments with staff about whether or not it is safe to allow indoor vaping, however, the policies they formulate should be evidence based – not based on ignorance or prejudice.

We have made three key recommendations:

  • All councils should review their vaping policies in line with the recommendations of Public Health England.
  • Those councils who currently require vapers to vape in designated smoking areas, should immediately change their policies.
  • All councils should allow some form of indoor vaping based on the current evidence that indoor vaping does not constitute a risk to public health.

Compiling this report has taken a huge amount of work. I haven’t done it as an academic exercise – I want it to be a catalyst for change. Reading the FOI responses was an eye-opener in many ways. Too many councils treat smokers in an appalling way and their policies deliberately make life as hard for them as possible. This is wrong and needs addressing. But if councils really mean what they say, and they do want to encourage their staff to give up smoking, then basing policy decisions on pure ignorance and prejudice is counterproductive to their aims.