Mark Pawsey is the Member of Parliament for Rugby, and the Chairman of the APPG for E-Cigarettes. This is a sponsored post by JTI.
Brexit could give us the opportunity to change the way we regulate vaping, and to further reduce the rate of smoking in the UK.
I am neither a smoker nor a vaper, but I recognise that e-cigarettes are a great innovation for public health. They are also a clear example of the market acting to solve a problem. Today, around 3.2 million Britons choose to vape, more than half of whom have already given up smoking completely – and most without a penny of taxpayers’ money because vaping is so much cheaper.
When a member of my staff showed me his e-cigarette, and explained how it had helped him quit smoking, I was intrigued. That intrigue soon changed to action when I learnt of the potential threat to this new industry from the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive after meeting with the small local business owner in my constituency of Rugby where my staff member bought his device and juices.
After some investigation I realised that there was very little discussion on vaping in Parliament, so I set up the All Party Parliamentary Group for E-Cigarettes to share information about these products with Parliamentary colleagues from all parties, and to explore the issues around vaping and e-cigarette regulations further.
E-cigarettes have been with us for around a decade now, and over that time we have seen the evidence for their positive impact on public health increasing. The most recent estimate from Public Health England, published in February this year and endorsed by the Royal College of Physicians and others, is that vaping is likely to be around 95 per cent less harmful for your health than smoking. And the data in the UK clearly shows that non-smokers simply aren’t taking up vaping in any meaningful number – in fact, according to the Smoking Toolkit Study the number of non-smokers who use e-cigarettes is comparable to the number of non-smokers who use traditional Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT).
So here is what we know: vaping is much better for you than smoking, and the vast majority of people using e-cigarettes are smokers and ex-smokers. Given what we know why does the latest data from the charity Action on Smoking and Health show that only 17 per cent of adults in the UK correctly understand that vaping is much less harmful than smoking? This lack of information could be holding back millions of smokers from choosing to make the switch.
Part of the answer is undoubtedly the terribly poor coverage of vaping and e-cigarettes in some of the mainstream media, but I think that bad regulations could be just as big an issue – and I was pleased to see my colleagues on the Science and Technology Select Committee highlight this following their extensive inquiry into vaping. As their recent report states, we need “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.”
I believe we need an urgent review of the regulation of e-cigarette products to separate their treatment from tobacco products (e-cigarettes don’t contain any tobacco) and to clearly communicate the real evidence about the potential benefits of vaping – in a targeted, responsible way – to existing smokers.
The regulations in question – advertising bans, nicotine strength limits, tank size restrictions, regulations on e-liquids and more – come to us as part of the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive and could be something we can amend post-Brexit. We will have a chance to create our own evidence-based regulatory framework and I hope we will take that opportunity.
Whether you agree or disagree, I hope you’ll join me and a distinguished panel of others at Party Conference to debate the question “Is Brexit a Victory for Vaping?” in Hall 10a of the ICC, at 5.30pm on Monday 1st October. I think it could be more than a victory for vaping – Brexit could be a victory for public health.