UK Government Launches Consultation on Smoking and Vaping

Vapers and tobacco harm reduction advocates are encouraged to make a submission, as some of the proposed measures are a threat to achieving the UK's smokefree goal.

Last week, the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care released a consultation aimed at gathering data with regards to smoking and vaping-related concerns, in a collaborative process will involve the administrations of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. These concerns are primarily based on fears that young individuals my develop a lifelong nicotine addiction by experimenting with the products.

The  consultation consists of a document and a set of questions, and will be open for submissions from now until December 6th.

On the other hand, tobacco harm reduction experts believe that some of the proposed restrictions will be counterproductive and may reverse the progress achieved locally in reducing smoking rates. The New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) listed the potential threats as follows:

·Potential harsh measures vape flavours, such as allowing only tobacco-flavoured vapes.
·Restricting vaping products to being stored behind counters, whether displayed or concealed, similar to  regulations on cigarettes. The document discusses the potential for an exemption for vape shops, though it remains uncertain.
·Restrictions on packaging for vapes, with proposals ranging from banning child-friendly imagery to implementing plain packaging, similar to cigarette packaging.
·Debating whether to prohibit the sale of single-use (disposable) vaping products and exploring how such a ban should be enforced.
·Considering the inclusion of non-nicotine products within existing legislation designed for nicotine-containing vapes.
·Discussing the regulation of nicotine pouches in a manner similar to vaping products.
·Exploring the possibility of taxing vaping products to discourage use among youth.
·Addressing the issue of heated tobacco products and their potential inclusion in the proposed generational ban on cigarette sales to those born after January 1, 2009.

Vapers urged to have their say
Titled, “Creating a smokefree generation and tackling youth vaping: your views,” the  consultation consists of a document and a set of questions, and welcomes the participation from both groups and individuals. The consultation document will be open for submissions from now until December 6th.

NNA trustee Michelle Jones has written a helpful guide with the aim of assisting anyone who may be unsure on what to submit. Additionally, some may find helpful reading the NNA’s prior response to the government’s call for evidence that preceded this consultation. In this response, the NNA provided various insights about the danger of excessive regulation in this area.

A ban on disposables with be counterproductive
Meanwhile, a  briefing paper from the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) warns that a ban on disposable vapes, will not really prevent teen vaping, but is likely to deter adult smokers from switching from smoking to vaping. Vaping has helped millions of people quit smoking, explains the paper, and a ban on disposables takes away a safer choice which is easy to start the transition to vaping with, given its non committal nature.

The paper, A Vapid Solution: Why banning disposable e-cigarettes would be a failure of law-enforcement insists that the government should instead focus on enforcing existing laws against underage vaping.

Health Information inserts in cigarette packs? Would anyone actually read them?
Another proposal mentioned in the consultation, is the possible implementation of health information inserts in cigarette packets. These of course aim to provide smokers with more accurate information about the risks of smoking, and deter them from smoking. Canada and Israel have already implemented a similar measure, while Australia is considering it.

However, experts in the field are doubtful about the effectivity of such measures. When last June, Health Canada announced a new requirement for tobacco manufacturers to display these warnings directly on individual cigarettes. Prof. David Sweanor, a Canadian tobacco harm reduction (THR) expert, expressed his skepticism, stating that fear-based messages, without practical and effective ways to reduce risks, are widely recognized as ineffective.

Martin Cullip, another expert in the field agreed with Sweanor. He called the measure well-intentioned but “pointless and misguided.” He added that such measures are condescending for assuming that smokers are unaware of cigarette risks, highlighting the disconnect between such warnings and the complexities of addiction and personal choices. He went on to discuss the common phenomenon of such warnings often having a desensitizing effect on consumers and hence diminishing their effectiveness over time.

Messaging on vape packaging could help bridge the misinformation gap
Meanwhile, discussing the UK’s consultation on the warnings the UKVIA suggested new messaging on vape packaging, in order to help bridge the misinformation gap about vaping’s relative harmlessness compared to smoking. This messaging could include statements such as “Switching completely from smoking to vaping will reduce harms to your health.”

The UKVIA also recommended that the government consider approved switching messages that vaping brands can use on various media platforms, especially targeting older smokers who rely on traditional media for information.