At the end of the summer, it seemed for a moment that Public Health England (PHE) along with other UK public health organisations had cemented themselves as trendsetters of common sense. I am talking of course about the expert independent evidence review, which was published by PHE that concluded that e-cigarettes are “significantly less harmful to health than tobacco and have the potential to help smokers quit smoking”.
As you may recall, the PHE found that there is no evidence so far that suggests e–cigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers.
At the time we applauded the group for releasing this comprehensive and wide reaching study into the important role that electronic cigarettes could play in the ‘quitting process’ which drew input from national cancer research organisations, the NHS and numerous other advocates of pro health.
Considering how impressed we were with the aforementioned report, there’s no surprise that, as vaping advocates, we were taken aback by the Joint statement on e-cigarettes by Public Health England and other UK public health organisations released in late September.
While not retracting its study or adapting its opinion on the published findings, the health bodies felt the need to clarify its position on vaping as a result of some unpopular opinions in the media.
“We should not forget what is important here. We know that smoking is the number one killer in England and we have a public health responsibility to provide smokers with the information and the tools to help them quit smoking completely and forever,” the group said.
Two segments of the statement appeared to apologise for presenting the well-researched findings that concluded that electronic cigarettes were less harmful than traditional tobacco products:
“We will continue to share what we know and address what we don’t yet know, to ensure clear, consistent messages for the public and health professionals…. PHE is honouring its longstanding promise to monitor and share the evidence, providing clear messages to the public.”
Another element of pressure that could have caused the group to issue the statement is a possible interpretation among stakeholders that the recent study was promoting vaping ahead of the NHS’ Stop Smoking services.
“We know that e-cigarettes are the most popular quitting tool in the country with more than 10 times as many people using them than using local stop smoking services. But, we also know that using local Stop Smoking Services is by far the most effective way to quit,” the group said.
Thankfully, instead of backtracking after the appeasing statement, the group of UK health bodies has not changed its stance on presenting the public with the most accurate data possible regarding vaping as a possible quitting aid.
“…We have a public health responsibility to provide smokers with the information and the tools to help them quit smoking completely and forever…. PHE is honouring its longstanding promise to monitor and share the evidence, providing clear messages to the public,” the group said.
With any hope, health bodies here and in the UK will keep in mind the role that vaping can play for those looking to quit smoking. Just last week we brought you the story of a lifelong smoker who found switching to VIP products from traditional smoking helped her give up altogether. There is not a one size fits all solution to the quitting process, common sense must prevail and smokers should be able to choose a method that best suits their situation.
The full list of bodies mentioned in this article are as follows: Public Health England, Action on Smoking and Health, Association of Directors of Public Health, British Lung Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Faculty of Public Health, Fresh North East, Public Health Action (PHA), Royal College of Physicians, Royal Society for Public Health, Tobacco Free Futures, UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and the UK Health Forum.