Adam Smith Inst - Send vape fears up in smoke

31 Oct 2019 09:28 AM

A new paper from the neoliberal think tank the Adam Smith Institute says if the UK Government wants to achieve its aim of a smoke-free generation by 2030 it will need a liberal approach to safer alternatives.

  • Britain should not succumb to the same moral panic on vaping as has been seen in America.

  • There is widespread misinformation about the relative risk of e-cigarettes. Over two-fifths (43%) of UK smokers do not believe that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.

  • There is a very strong correlation between the reduction in cigarette usage and the increase in e-cigarette usage in recent years. According to PHE estimates, up to 57,000 more people have quit a year due to e-cigarettes.

  • There are 8.56 million smokers in Great Britain, 4.37 million smokers have tried e-cigarettes but gone back to smoking, while 2.88 million smokers have yet to try a reduced-risk product. This means there is a need to expand information about and access to reduced-risk products like heated tobacco and oral nicotine pouches.

  • Among young people (16-24 year olds) the smoking rate has substantially increased in the last few years. In 2016, just 16.6% of young people smoked cigarettes, but this had increased to 23.6% by 2018. Since 2016, vaping in this age group has declined from 5.8% to 4.8%. 

Recent concerns about the safety of vaping from the USA are nothing to worry about for UK users. However, a new report by the Adam Smith Institute argues that Britain is at risk of a similar moral panic on vaping as seen over the pond this summer.

Earlier this year, a cluster of people developed severe and sudden lung injuries after e-cigarette use and several deaths have been linked to this. Following these reports, the U.S Centre for Disease Control’s response discouraging the sale and use of e-cigarettes spread a moral panic without scientific basis. The cause, the paper argues currently is likely to have been the use of unregulated black market e-liquids containing THC (the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis) and other chemicals. 

As e-cigarette use has increased in the UK, the numbers smoking traditional cigarettes has declined markedly. Since 2012 the number of smokers has decreased by 2 million, while e-cigarette use has increased from 800,000 to 3.2 million people. Over half of vapers are ex-smokers, with nearly four in ten being dual users and less than one in ten coming from a non-smoking background. 

This switching has had marked benefits to those who used to smoke. According to PHE estimates, up to 57,000 more people have quit a year due to e-cigarettes. 

But the Adam Smith Institute says Britain risks going backwards if we don’t keep up and promote switching to safer products, including encouraging further understanding of and a friendly approach to heated tobacco and oral nicotine pouches. Over four in ten smokers do not know that e-cigarettes are less harmful to health than traditional burned tobacco cigarettes. 

Far from the fears about e-cigarettes being a causal gateway into smoking, the report points to evidence that young people are taking up traditional cigarettes at alarming rates again while relatively few opt for e-cigarettes. 

The free market think tank suggests seven ideas that the government may want to implement if they want to achieve their stated goal of a smoke-free society by 2030: 

  1. Develop an evidence-based set of generic health claims that can be used by regulated e-cigarette marketers to advertise products; 

  2. Commission independent research to develop the evidence base in relation to heated tobacco products, with a view to allowing accurate communication of this information by marketers;

  3. Reform counterproductive elements of the EU Tobacco Products Directive post-Brexit; 

  4. Implement risk-based taxation to incentivise switching to reduced-risk products, building on the creation of a separate taxation category for heated tobacco; 

  5. Legalise snus post-Brexit with a sensible regulatory framework; 

  6. Encourage the NHS to take a leadership role in promoting tobacco harm reduction across trusts; 

  7. Allow cigarette pack inserts that exclusively advertise reduced-risk products.

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Daniel Pryor, author of the report and Head of Programmes at the Adam Smith Institute, said:

“Vaping is a British success story. It gives many smokers an effective and less harmful alternative to cigarettes. Free market innovation and sensible regulation are reducing the demand for cigarettes and saving lives — all the while retaining consumer choice. But there is substantial room for improvement as millions of smokers have yet to try vaping and millions more have tried it but returned to cigarettes. If the Government wants any chance of achieving a 'smoke-free' society by 2030, we urgently need to implement policies that encourage switching from smoking to vaping, and give smokers who don't like vaping more options to switch to other safer products.”

Matthew Lesh, Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute, says: 

“E-cigarettes are a life-saving innovation that helps people quit cigarettes, but there's so much further to go. If the Government is serious about public health they must take a liberal approach to harm reduction. This means combating misinformation about the harm of e-cigarettes and harnessing the potential of reduced-risk products such as heated tobacco and oral nicotine pouches.”

Notes to editors:  

For further comments or to arrange an interview, contact Matt Kilcoyne, | 07904 099599.

The Adam Smith Institute is a free market, neoliberal think tank based in London. It advocates classically liberal public policies to create a richer, freer world.