After what appeared to be recent steps forward in the recognition of e-cigarettes as a useful smoking cessation aid by the UK government in the form of the government backed Stoptober campaign which featured vaping for the first time in its TV advertising, there has now been a step backwards in the announcement of a new inquiry into whether or not e-cigarette usage is re-normalizing smoking.
The Chair of the Science and Technology Committee’s announcement on 25th October declared that questions would be asked as to whether people are becoming just as addicted to vaping devices as they were to smoking tobacco, and whether their use is giving the public the impression that smoking is once more socially acceptable.
E-Cigarette Usage in the UK
Around 3 million people in the UK are now e-cig users, seeing them as an invaluable tool in the fight against tobacco addiction and smoking, however those who are against their use say that seeing people use vaping devices in public is encouraging young people to try them for themselves, and persuading them that smoking is once more the norm.
MP Norman Lamb, the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, raised concerns about the gaps in the research which guides the sale and regulation of vaping devices and stated in his announcement that further understanding is required as to the impact of current regulations and the implications of the growing vaping industry on the country’s public finances and NHS costs.
This announcement appears to fly in the face of recent evidence that has shown that since e-cigarettes have entered mainstream use, the number of smokers in the UK has dropped to an all-time low level, and the the vaping rate among young people in the UK remains low.
More E-Cig Misconceptions
One of the most prevalent misconceptions around the use of e-cigarettes is that they act as a gateway for UK youths to take up smoking, and this appears to be behind this new MP inquiry. This is despite the fact that this Gateway Theory has been already dispelled by several studies, and a recent study which collated the data gathered from five large studies showed that regular e-cig usage levels are significantly low among young people who have never been tobacco smokers.
While some advocates of e-cig use are worried about this new inquiry, concerned that it will further damage their cause and foster further misconceptions about vaping among the general public, others welcome the news, stating that they believe it will be a positive step. Professor John Britton, the University of Nottingham’s Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies states that the inquiry will help to bring an end to today’s common misconceptions surrounding e-cig usage, and help to demonstrate further that they have a key role to play in revolutionising smoking and aiding public health.
While he pointed out that there is an argument to say that people would be healthier if they did not use nicotine, the same could be said about other substances such as caffeine, and that the effect of nicotine use in the long term is trivial when compared with the effects of tobacco smoking.
Confusion Over The UK’s Stance on E-Cigs
Norman Lamb’s latest announcement only serves to widen the confusion among the public as to what precisely the stance of the UK government is on the use of e-cigarettes. Not only did vaping appear in the 2017 Stoptober campaign, but NHS Health Scotland have also publicly declared that their use is safer than smoking.
In July 2016, the UK government also released a document entitled “Towards a Smokefree Generation, A Tobacco Control Plan for England” in which it put forward its ambitions to cut the rate of smoking from 15.5% where it currently stands to 12% or under by 2022. Under the plan, localities are encouraged to develop strategies of their own towards the control of tobacco, with focus being placed on using e-cigs among other smoking cessation aids.
In light of these moves, the news of the new MP inquiry seems to make little sense, setting back the cause for vaping which their own government seems to be supporting.