Public Health Experts Urge British Lawmakers To Incentivize Vaping Over Smoking

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A group of public health experts are urging lawmakers in the United Kingdom to ease restrictions on vapor products and encourage smokers to switch to the devices.

Researchers testifying to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee Thursday argued laws governing vapor products must better distinguish their drastically different health consequences to combustible cigarettes. The group included scientists from Queen Mary University in London, University College London and the University of Catania, in Italy, reports The Pharmaceutical Journal.

The researchers were critical of the current restriction on nicotine strength, which is currently capped at 20 mg, saying it was a pointless limit that forced former smokers to use their vape more to satiate their cravings. Dr. Riccardo Polosa, professor of internal medicine at the University of Catania, also targeted a directive from the European Union greatly restricting the size of refill containers, limiting the amount of liquid nicotine former smokers can stock up on.

“Changing the size of the bottle may impact on cigarette smokers considering switching as the cost will come down,” Polosa said Thursday, according to The Pharmaceutical Journal. “Scientific evidence shows that there are benefits of exclusive use of e-cigarettes after using conventional cigarettes — particularly in areas such as respiratory diseases and cardiovascular diseases. Our priority is to have as many smokers as possible switch to less harmful products.”

The vaping industry in the U.K. is hopeful that Brexit negotiations will allow lawmakers to revisit certain laws governing e-cigarettes.

Polosa recently conducted a three-year study investigating the effects of regular vaping on the body of the user, finding “no evidence of health concerns associated with long-term use of e-cigarettes” on blood pressure, heart rate, body weight, lung function, respiratory symptoms, exhaled breath nitric oxide and exhaled carbon monoxide.

The U.K. currently has the second lowest smoking rate in all of Europe, and officials say vaping is a big part of the reason.

The Royal College of Physicians agrees that using e-cigarettes eliminates most of the harms attributed to smoking. The medical body also recommends vaping for patients trying to quit traditional tobacco products. Vaping eliminates up to 95 percent of the risk associated with cigarettes because the majority of cancer-causing chemicals are inhaled through smoke, according to Public Health England.

Some lawmakers in the U.K. fear the positive message on vaping is not getting through to the larger population, which faces a constant barrage of media misinformation concerning the products. Members of parliament in the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) are urging the government to clear up misconceptions that are leaving smokers confused about their options and threaten to impede the country’s progress reducing the smoking rate.

The group notes the rate of smokers in the country transitioning to e-cigarettes has dropped significantly, showing the fear-based campaigns of tobacco control groups against vaping are gaining ground. The vaping population in the U.K. rose by only 4 percent in 2016, after expanding by 62 percent in 2014 and 24 percent in 2015.

The public is also becoming less educated on the health profile of vapor products. The latest polling by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) shows only 20 percent of adults in the U.K. understand that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking, a drop from 31 percent in 2015.

The U.K.’s Department of Health released a policy paper on e-cigarettes July 18, backing the devices as useful tools to quit smoking and eliminate secondhand risks to the public. The department’s Five Year Tobacco Control plan aims to significantly slash the overall smoking rate, and argues that expanding public access to vaping will help achieve this goal.

Health officials in the country hope to bring the smoking rate down from 15.5 percent to 12 percent by the end of 2022. The report states that the government wants to “minimize the risk of harm” to the smoker and those around them by “maximizing the availability of safer alternatives to smoking.”

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