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Framing Questions About “Dangers”

By April 24, 2019 No Comments

Newspapers and media outlets were abuzz yesterday with accusations that the “dangers” of vaping are being ignored by Public Health England (PHE) and other public health bodies. If the statement seemed out of step with advice from reputable healthcare professionals, well, that’s because it is.

The sensationalist claims came from Professor Martin McKee and Dr Aaron Scott, two figures who previously have published anti-vaping comments. Scott for example has complained that “You can go into a pound store anywhere in the country and buy e-cigarette liquid for £1. You can do that with very little regulation, so it’s very easy for example for kids to get that, it’s very accessible.”. These assertions are of course incorrect; e-liquids are heavily regulated in the UK following the introduction of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations in May 2017, and vaping products are subject to strict age restriction legislation which all responsible retailers comply with.

McKee and Scott have both argued that the absence of long-term evidence suggests that we don’t know whether vaping is harmful or not. Relevant long-term studies are of course difficult to undertake given that vaping has only been around for a decade. Cuts Ice is committed to enabling this research wherever possible, and indeed researchers like Professor Riccardo Polosa have begun studies which in the absence of long-term data do yield promising results, such as vaping causing no damage to the lungs of non-smokers over a period of three years. But framing debates about the safety, efficacy, or potential of vaping around their long-term impact is missing the point.

What is relevant is vaping’s short-term impact compared to the harm of continuing smoking. Vaping products are designed for smokers, to assist them to switch from smoking. PHE’s famed 95 per cent figure clearly states that this is compared to smoking. We know vaping is an effective tool for switching that comes without the multitude of carcinogenic chemicals found in combustible tobacco, which kills half of all it’s users. I am often reminded at times like these of videos showing cotton buds in bell jars being exposed to either tobacco or vapour, and the resulting stark differences.

Irresponsible comments such as those made by McKee and Scott are dangerous, far too many smokers already have incorrect perceptions about the safety of vaping. They risk sending vapers back to smoking, and putting off wavering smokers from switching in the future. Any debates about the potential risks posed by vaping must always be considered in direct comparison to smoking, and it is never better to smoke than it is to vape. This has been understood and rightly promoted by reputable organisations like PHE, Cancer Research UK, and the Royal College of General Practitioners. It is a shame that others in the profession have yet to understand their responsibilities to the public.