Vaping in the United Kingdom
A look into the attitudes of Vaping around the UK
Attitudes towards Vaping is quite varied in each different part that makes up the UK. In this article, I look at just how different it is from England to Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland
People’s attitude towards vaping varies from person to person. And this also applies to different countries as well, with some countries having different views, and restrictions compared to others.
In England, we have quite a forward-thinking, pro-active mindset when it comes to vaping, with Public Health England declaring Vaping to be 95% safer than smoking, as well as Stop Smoking services suggesting vaping as the best method to quit smoking.
But what I find interesting is how varied the attitude towards Vaping is by our neighbours in the United Kingdom compared to us here in England. Let’s look into this!
Back in 2016, Public Health England declared Vaping to be 95% safer than smoking cigarettes which was a huge moment for the Vaping industry. Having such validation from a recognized body like PHE meant things could only get better for the longevity of Vaping in England. And in their 2022 review, they lamented their stance on how safe Vaping is yet again.
Action on Smoking and Health are a public health charity set up by a team from the Royal College of Physicians to end the harm caused by tobacco and are huge advocates of Vaping. They produce yearly surveys, documenting the behaviours of adults in the UK who smoke and/or use E-Cigarettes. They also survey and document the use of E-Cigs amongst younger people, including people who are underage and using E-Cigarettes. A taboo topic but something that is highlighted by ASH, in a bid to get the governments attention that something needs to be done by them to stop the numbers increasing.
The government made a pledge back in 2019 for England to become SmokeFree by the year 2030 and set out goals and targets to help them achieve this. They are however, failing to keep this on track to become reality unless some intervention and new ideas are introduced. Dr Javed Khan was commissioned to give an independent review into this, where he highlighted a lot of the problems the government needs to intervene on if they want this goal to be achieved.
Stop Smoking services in England are also now promoting the use of E-cigarettes to the users of the services as the favoured method to quit smoking, with GPs and Stop Smoking experts both backing Vaping. Some stop smoking services have even successfully trialled and now using the method of giving people in more deprived areas of England a “Vape Shop Voucher” which they can redeem at their local vape shop for a Vaping starter kit and get them on the right track.
Stop Smoking services in England do currently have their work cut out for them though, with not enough government funding and resources available, some areas of the country only have one stop smoking service available for over 170,000 smokers.
Crossing over to Scotland, and I find that their attitude towards Vaping isn’t so positive compared to what it is in England.
Public Health Scotland does recognise that Vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes but haven’t made any percentage-based claims like Public Health England have. They instead say “Vaping is definitely less harmful than smoking cigarettes” They also recognise that useful towards public health and people to stop smoking, but suggest medical professionals put forward the medical treatment that have the strongest evidence base to help people stop smoking.
ASH Scotland do support Vaping but not in such a strong way that ASH England does. They make the following statement on their website
“ASH Scotland does not take a simplistic view either “for” or “against” electronic cigarettes. Our interest is in helping people improve their health by reducing the enormous harm caused by tobacco use. Our approach to electronic cigarettes will be guided by that principle.”
The Scottish government made a publication in September 2022 regarding the tightening of the rules on advertising and promoting vaping products in a bid to protect the health and wellbeing of children, young people and non-smokers within the country. Something that I think does need to happen across all countries of the United Kingdom.
However, members of ASH Scotland do back the publications published by the World Health Organisation, and they believe that young people who use an e-cigarette are 3 times more likely to use tobacco products, like cigarettes, in the future. I personally believe that the claims made by WHO have several flaws in them, and don’t agree with a lot of the points they’ve made, but that’s just my personal opinion.
Scotland’s Stop Smoking service is a service called “Quit Your Way” and on investigation of their website, it doesn’t appear that Vaping is promoted in the same way it is with the Stop Smoking websites in England. An interesting contrast.
The Welsh Government recently came out publicly that they also want to achieve a SmokeFree country by 2030, with less than 5% of the population being active smokers by the time the year 2030 rolls around.
However, in the statement released by the Welsh Government, they failed to mention anything about the use of E-Cigarettes helping this process compared to that of England’s SmokeFree 2030 pledge being assisted with the promotion and use of E-Cigarettes to help people quit smoking cigarettes.
Wales also offer a stop smoking service to their residents named “Help Me Quit” where people can go and seek advice and get treatment should they want to quit smoking. The website for Help Me Quit doesn’t give me much information on what they suggest for people looking to quit, so I can’t say how much they promote vaping compared to the Stop Smoking services here in England. However, they have published a Blog about different people that started a Vape Shop business after choosing to use E-Cigarettes as their Nicotine replacement therapy after being heavy smokers for years, love to read a success story!
Now this is where it gets interesting with Wales and their views on Vaping, and that was shown in the recent publication of ASH Wales survey on the public’s opinion of Tobacco Control by the Welsh government.
Like what ASH England do each year, ASH Wales carried out a YouGov survey and asked 1100 Adults (18+) in an online survey for their views on tobacco control within the country. The survey heavily focused on asking people their views on smoking, what the government could do to decrease the volume of smokers, what they think of smoking behaviours, and just heavily focuses on smoking in general with not much said on the topic of Vaping.
The only mention of vaping was the amount of people who took the survey that are current users of E-Cigarettes, how many of them thought it was as/more harmful than cigarettes and the amount of people who were ex-smokers and now vape. The number of current users sits at 8%, which is an increase from a Survey taken in 2019 where the number of users was 6%.
Where I believe they’ve dropped the ball here is the sheer lack of promotion or even mention of E-Cigarettes both in the press release, as well as the survey results. No promotion of vaping by ASH Wales towards the Welsh Government is hugely damaging to the legitimacy of Vaping and leaves an open door for Smokers to believe any misinformation that is printed regarding the “risks” of Vaping. A cause for concern for sure.
From my research, it appears that Ireland and Vaping do not go together in the same sentence, and recent news is showing it may be in the plans to make Vaping obsolete in the country if the suggestions being put forward do come into effect.
Action on Smoking and Health Ireland do not seem to publish a lot about vaping on their website, and what is published is leaning more on the negative side of Vaping, documenting a rise in the use of E-Cigarettes by underage users and more needs to be done to combat this.
A statement from the Chairman of ASH Ireland, Dr Patrick Doorley reads:
“Vaping is less harmful than smoking but still not safe. E-cigarettes contain thousands of chemicals many of which are toxic, but there are not many programmes which educate children about the harmful effects. While e-cigarettes may assist hardened smokers to quit, recent reports, such as this focus group which indicate an increased use of these devices among young people in Ireland is exceptionally alarming, particularly as they have been found to be a gateway to traditional smoking”
No affirmations on Vaping in that statement surrounding Vaping with the words “still not safe” and “may” standing out at me.
What I do find fascinating, is the absolute disregard for Vaping from Ireland’s stop smoking service. Our Health Service is Ireland’s equivalent to our NHS, and they offer a number of services, including stopping smoking.
I’ve had a browse on their website and noticed there is absolutely no mention of using an E-cigarette and Vaping to help people quit. The website features loads on the benefits of stopping smoking, and how to go about it and even has a specific section for Nicotine Replacement Therapy which I thought would definitely suggest Vaping, and wrong I was to think that.
The website lists all NRT options such as gum, patches, lozenges, etc and zero mention of using an E-cigarette to help people quit! They even have Testimonials on there from users of the service who have successfully quit, and this was through using gum, tablets, or lozenges that the service had prescribed to them. Comparing this to England’s Stop Smoking services where E-Cigs are being given to patients at the SSS meetings, it’s quite the contrast isn’t it.
And now we come to the biggest red flag of Ireland looking to make Vaping a thing of the past within their country, and that is the call for all flavours of vape juice, except Tobacco, to be BANNED in the country. Something never seen or suggested by any country in Great Britain!
A group of influential MPs that make up the Oireachtas Health Committee have put forward a proposal of 22 recommendations it wants to see in a new legislation surrounding tobacco and E-Cigarettes.
The legislations include:
- All e-cigarette flavours (except for tobacco) should be strictly prohibited so as not to entice minors.
- Measures to restrict the use of brightly coloured packaging and further regulation in the form of plain packaging restrictions should be implemented.
- All forms of e-cigarette advertising and promotions, including on billboards, online on all social media platforms, and influencer marketing methods should be prohibited.
- The harms associated with the consumption of e-cigarettes should be communicated to the public in a simple and effective manner and
- The sale of e-cigarettes to those under 18 should be restricted
The legislation does have some similarities to those posed in other countries in Great Britain, such as the dulling down of packaging, and the restricting of advertising. As well as the sale to under-18s applying, which I actually think already is in place in Northern Ireland.
A member of the Irish Heart Foundation, who are partnered with ASH Ireland welcomed the prospect of a flavour ban, stating that “Companies make flavours purposefully to try and make it attractive to minors”
In my opinion, as well as that of Vaping companies based in Northern Ireland, the banning of flavours apart from Tobacco in e-liquids could potentially cripple the Northern Ireland Vaping industry, which you can’t help feeling could be a ploy to do exactly that. As statistics show, there are 115,000 vapers in Northern Ireland, and limiting their choices to only tobacco flavour vape juice could force them into a corner they really don’t want to be in and may end up resorting back to smoking. This is something I’ll be keeping a very close watch on and reporting back with any progression.
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