With all of the negative headlines surrounding vaping in 2016, it was comforting to see a prominent UK public health expert promoting vaping as still being far safer than smoking in a recent Guardian article. Professor Linda Bauld is one of Britain’s most prominent tobacco control public health experts, being both the Deputy Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and the Professor of Health Policy at the University of Stirling, in addition to other current and former work with various public health groups, including Cancer Research UK.
Media feeding public “scare stories” about ecigs
Prof. Bauld attacked the media for providing a regular stream of “scare stories” which, if the evidence is correct, has put off many from trying e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation method. One in ten British adults thought that ecigs carried the same risks as smoking in 2013, where one in four hold the same opinion as of the summer of 2016. Bauld writes in the article that this perception is simply wrong, with a number of reports and studies by highly reputed organisations, including the Royal College of Physicians, backing up Public Health England’s position that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking. According to Prof. Bauld, none of the new information which fueled the media scare stories has put any of these reports or studies to the test.
International organisations and government bodies to blame
Prof. Bauld went on to call out the World Health Organisation and the U.S. Surgeon General for separate reports which were damaging to the perception of e-cigarettes as a viable tobacco harm reduction method. The WHO report, which was extensively critiqued by the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, suggested bans and further regulation on e-cigarettes worldwide. The U.S. Surgeon General’s report not only called ecigs a tobacco product, but raised them as a public health concern based on anecdotal evidence that young adults are trying them - a position not borne out by facts in the UK year-over-year.
So why are international bodies putting out reports based on bad science, which are fueling negative headlines? The answer is simple - e-cigarettes work, they work well, and are a growing threat to lobbying financial interests and global income from taxes on tobacco. They are a free-market solution to one of the biggest public health issues in the world - smoking. Britain’s regulation on e-cigarettes may impede some of vaping’s free-market advantages, but overall are a shining example of how tobacco harm reduction should be considered first and foremost by any government body. If you vape, you are not putting carcinogenic chemicals into your body, and the Tobacco Products Directive exists to ensure this in the United Kingdom. Ecigs cannot be sold to minors or packaged in such a way that they are attractive to them, discouraging use by minors.
Most importantly, if you vape, you are either not smoking or cutting down gradually to reaching your goal of quitting. This will reduce the incidence of cancer, heart disease, and many other conditions which put the public directly at risk - and this should be the endgame, not hand-wringing over potential long-term harms which public health bodies have deemed to be a fraction of the risk of smoking.
Prof. Bauld closed her arguments with the following statement:
“I believe that e-cigarettes have huge potential to save lives by providing an alternative to smoking. Yet this can only be realised if we address negative harm perceptions and communicate honestly with the public. Ongoing research can help with this, and 2016 has seen the start of important studies, many commissioned by Cancer Research UK, which will tell us more in the future.”
We look forward to the outcomes of these studies which will not be tainted by lobbying interests and based purely on scientific evidence, and continuing to serve the British public with products that will save their lives.