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If you’ve read any of my previous articles recently, you would have seen some positive news stories that have been coming out regarding the UK Government’s apparent support for Vaping, and the backing of the use of E-Cigarettes for smoking cessation which has been so good to see, and well deserved for Vaping as well.
However, there appears to be somewhat of a change of heart happening right in front of our eyes for the support of Vaping, and this was heightened to the maximum a couple of weeks ago when a committee meeting took place in the House of Commons, and saw various MP’s taking shots at Vaping representatives and putting Vaping in the darkest light possible, and the things that were being said in this meeting from the MP’s and others on the “anti vaping” panel were massively inaccurate and didn’t carry any sort of factual evidence backing.
In this blog, I’m going to take a look at the transcript of this meeting, and pick out some key conversational points and statements that were made, and give my views on them, and determine whether or not there has been somewhat of a u-turn from the Government on their stance to continue to pushing Vaping as much as they previously had. Let’s get into it!
The Previous Backing of Vaping From The Government
As mentioned, I’ve written a couple of articles previously taking a look at how the Government in the UK/England have started promoting and backing Vaping as the best option for people to quit smoking. It comes after a multitude of research and study, as well as surveys being conducted, which showed that Vaping was the most successful approach for people who were wanting to quit smoking.
Cast your minds back to only April of this year, so 3 months ago, and the Government announced the revolutionary “Swap to Stop” scheme launching in England, which promised 1 million smokers access to free Vape starter kits in a bid to get them on the right path to quitting smoking for good.
Neil O’Brien OBE MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State – Minister for Primary Care and Public Health) was the person at the fore front of this and delivered the road map plan for rolling this out, and his stance on Vaping seemed to appear one of a positive attitude, with key points being made such as acknowledging smoking being the single biggest cause of avoidable death in England, the sheer volume of cost that smoking has on the NHS, how smokers can also cause workplaces to lose money on productivity and time spent off sick with smoking related illnesses, and vowed that “a smoker who quits today, will not be in a Hospital bed next year”
All sounding good and positive right? Mr O’ Brien then goes on to reveal the “Swap to Stop” scheme that is planned for roll out some time this year here in England. He admired the success that local stop smoking services have had with their own schemes, and adopted a similar approach to launch something much bigger and with actual Government backing which was a monumental step forward in the right direction for Vaping.
It appeared that Neil O’Brien was somewhat of a vaping advocate with the want and desire to launch something like this. Well, things did take a little bit of a turn as he highlighted the problematic situation that appears to not be going away and that is youth vaping.
Only two months prior, a Bill was put forward to the House of Commons by Dr Caroline Johnson wanting to BAN the sale of Disposable Vapes due to the harm they were having to the Environment, as well as what role they were playing in the rates of youths in the UK using them.
Some over exaggerating of statistics were used in this Bill, and Mr O’Brien used them also when putting forward this new scheme that they wanted to launch, so it wasn’t the best thing to see after a positive start for the backing of Vaping.
We’re moving on to the happenings of last week very shortly, and keep in mind everything that I’ve just written above which shows how much the Government are valuing the use of E-Cigarettes for smoking cessation, as it now feels like it’s going rapidly in reverse, and not for the best either!
Health And Social Care Committee Meeting 28th June 2023
This meeting was called and took place pushing near two weeks ago now, and the basis of this meeting was, and to quote the HOC website
“The session will examine options to restrict access to vapes such as banning or limiting products that appeal through flavours or bright colours and the use of marketing practices which attract children and young people. Better enforcement of restrictions on sales to under 18s and pricing increases are also likely to be considered.”
Pretty simple and straight forward agenda it looks like there, youth vaping obviously taking the forefront as the topic in question and I was hopeful to see some good topical conversation, with unity from all parties taking place and some plans being laid out…how wrong I was.
The people in attendance on the board for this meeting were;
- Steve Brine (Chair);
- Paul Blomfield; Paul Bristow;
- Mrs Paulette Hamilton;
- Dr Caroline Johnson;
- Rachael Maskell;
- James Morris.
And two lots of speakers were also invited, staggered over two 40 minute sessions, with the first panel comprising of;
- Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive, Action on Smoking and Health;
- Dr Helen Stewart, Officer for Health Improvement, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health;
- Laranya Caslin, Principal, St George’s Academy, Sleaford.
and followed after by;
- John Dunne, Director General, UK Vaping Industry Association;
- Marcus Saxton, Chairman, Independent British Vape Trade Association.
A good mixture of representatives, with Deborah Arnott taking the impending storm solo and being trio’d to sit on a panel with two people who were anti-vaping, so you could see how this was going to go. And then John Dunne and Marcus Saxton being paired together gave a clear indication of what was going to be fired in their direction, and the indications were correct.
This meeting went for roughly just over an hour and it honestly was so frustrating and painful to watch at times, as it was wholly unfair what the pro-vaping representatives had to face and listen to. The transcript can be read here as I’m not going to be going through everything they spoke about as there’s 112 different questions and a 38 page long transcript which I would be hard pushed to keep you focused to read through! I’ll pick out some key parts that I want to reflect on below.
First Panel Review
As stated, the first panel was comprised of one pro-vaping and two anti-vaping representatives, and this just went how I expected it to, but fair play to Deborah Arnott, as she held her own and fired back with the correct information after being battered with misinformation and evidence lacking “facts”
The one thing I want to pick out which is probably my favourite quote from this whole thing, is from Paulette Hamilton, who was sitting on the committee that bought this meeting forward.
“Rather than encouraging people to vape rather than smoke, do you not think it would be better to ban the whole lot, whether it be the ones that you can refill or the single-use ones, until you get proper regulation and the trading standards bit is sorted out?”
Brilliant, a superb suggestion to completely ban the whole lot and just cause more harm than good, by denying the current ADULT users of E-Cigarettes in the UK, which currently sits at the highest number it’s ever been (over 4 million if you didn’t already know) access to what they rely on so heavily to keep them off smoking, while they sort this apparent problem. I’m all for good ideas, but this was not one of them!
And closely following this in second place for one of my favourite quotes to come out of this comes from from Dr Helen Stewart, who was one of the three on the guest panel…
“There has been some suggestion of young people developing something called popcorn lung, secondary to vaping. Again, it is small numbers, so it is difficult to draw wide conclusions from them, but it is enough to make us very concerned. I work in an emergency department. When children, or unfortunately toddlers, get hold of them and drink them, the toxicity is incredible. We see some very sick children. If it is that toxic when you ingest it or breathe it in, it has to raise concerns. It is difficult to extrapolate the evidence and the numbers are small, but it definitely suggests a significant health impact.“
A Doctor bringing up Popcorn Lung…insane that this is still being bought up in 2023, 7 years later from the first fiasco relating to this. If you didn’t know, Popcorn Lung was a lung injury that was caused by Diacetyl, a sweetener used to create a “buttery” taste on Popcorn, and workers in a factory contracted this after breathing in the fumes, and it was then unearthed that this was being used in vape juice as a sweetener.
But it has been a banned substance ever since 2016 under the Tobacco Products Directive, and if this was included in any vape juice recipes, it would not pass the testing and verification process and wouldn’t enter onto the shelves of the UK market.
It seems that this is just something that’s being clung onto a thrown out as and when it’s needed, but it’s normally completely irrelevant to the actual case at hand.
There was a small glimmer of light that came from Laranya Caslin, who’s a school Principal, and she acknowledged that Vaping is a good thing for adults to utilise if they are looking to quit smoking
“I think we are all crystal clear that vaping is better than smoking—there is no debate over that“
But she does then go on to lean on the whole Popcorn Lung reference made by her co panelist as well as the fact Nicotine apparently “harms brain development” in young people, and that Vaping is becoming too easy to be lured into under peer pressure within friendship groups.
Second Panel Review
Now we move on to the secondary panel which saw John Dunne and Marcus Saxton take the hot seats and boy oh boy did they get both barrels fired at them from the Committee.
I watched the whole thing unravel, and it did become very uncomfortable at times to watch as they really did take a hammering from the committee, but they both held their own and gave some really good evidence based responses to questions fired at them, as well as reserving themselves from pulling up false/unfactual evidence that got thrown at them, which I’ll go into shortly.
Lack Of Consequences For People Selling To Underage Users
The first question was sent to John Dunne and it’s as follows, with John’s reply underneath;
“You heard the evidence that has been given this morning. You have heard from a headteacher who talked about the impact on schooling, alarms being set off and exam impacts. You have heard about children with asthma. You have heard about children being retentive and not going to the toilet at school. We have heard quite a lot of interesting stuff this morning, haven’t we? ”
“Does it make you feel good about your industry? “
JD: “No. Actually, this is something that we have been pushing for for well over three years. One of the issues that we have highlighted is—it was talked about earlier on—is that these products are being sold in inappropriate locations. There are also very few financial penalties for retailers caught selling to minors. A recent study done by one of our members, Arcus Compliance, found that very few trading standards groups are implementing fines. As an example, in a group of 12 cities with 5.5 million people, the combined fines over three years totalled £2,100.
We also had a case recently where a court fined a store £26 for selling vape to a 14-year-old. As an association we have called for extreme action to be taken on that. We want to see fines increased to a minimum of £10,000 per instance. We want to see all vape retailers and distributors licensed to sell these products. That licensing has to include robust age verification processes and that they only stock legitimate licensed products. We think these are reasonable things for the industry to do. If the industry is not going to object to it, I do not see why the Government cannot do it. If you look at what Ireland did recently, it is bringing in a Bill that will bring in €4,000 fines
Great response from John Dunne there, and pushing it back over onto the Government’s lap which is the right thing to do, rather than it being dumped into our industry. There’s so many shops out there now selling Disposable Vapes with no care for checking ID at the point of sale, and the reason being is because they can make a sale and effectively suffer no consequences for breaking the law, and if they do come to consequence, they get a measly fine which is just a laughable amount. Fines must be increased, and these shops that are tarnishing our industry severely punished for their actions as they are only adding to the problem and bringing absolutely nothing good to the table!
Is Vaping Industry Fully To Blame?
I won’t go massively in depth with all of this grilling that Marcus and John faced, as there’s a lot, and I’ll be here ages unravelling it all, but I want to pick out some of the key parts to discuss. Paul Blomfield said the following;
“Mr Dunne, you have acknowledged that there is an enormous problem created by your industry. Don’t you think it is possibly a bit convenient that you come along to us this morning and argue that the regulation should be focused on retailers, knowing that trading standards do not have the capacity for enforcement, and on social media? It is a great diversion tactic. Don’t you think there is a problem with your products that you should look at?”
“No, absolutely not. These products have been around for well over 15 years. They are the most successful way that adults quit smoking here in the UK. We now have 4.2 million people vaping successfully, who were primarily ex-smokers.”
I feel that this attack was pretty unnecessary and not really appropriate. It’s not convenient at all that the points are being made highlighting the flaws that are causing the problems, and not just Vaping alone, and it feels that they got to say what they wanted, and didn’t really listen nor care for what the counter argument to their points were.
It felt a very one sided affair from the Committee vs the Panel, with the stance of the Committee being quite rigid, but the Pro-Vaping panel members held their own and did really well to fire back what was given to them by the Committee.
I’ll wrap this up here, as I’ve rambled on enough and if you’ve got this far, I truly appreciate you reading through my views and analysis of it!
If you want to do some further reading, the New Nicotine Alliance has written an absolutely superb piece relating to all of this which was questioned, and gave their views on it and gone in all guns blazing which from a pro-vaping stand point is great to see!
They use a hefty amount of evidence based facts to fire back at the claims made by the Committee members, as well as the panel members that are not involved in the vaping industry.
Meetings like this do have a right to happen, but not in the way that this unfolded, as it felt very uncomfortable to watch, and unfair towards the Panel guests who represented the vaping industry. There is a problem with youth vaping, without doubt, but it’s not fully on the Vaping industry’s shoulders that all the blame should fall.
I hope there isn’t going to be a U-Turn in feelings and support of vaping from the Government, as this were looking positive and bright, and now there seems to be a bit of a dark cloud looming above it again, that doesn’t feel like it’s going to go away sadly. I’ll be intrigued to see how this all pans out, and I’m hopeful for a positive outcome for sure.