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Last year Public Health England famously announced that e-cigarettes would be endorsed as harm reduction and smoking cessation tools, as a study by the Royal College of Physicians in London (RCP), had indicated that the devices are at least 95% safer than regular cigarettes. However, insurance companies in the UK have not adjusted their premiums to reflect this.

Last month the fact that insurance companies are still imposing a “smoker’s surcharge” on e-cigarette users made headlines. “It is just not fair,” said Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at Stirling University. “As well as being financially punitive to people who vape, it can also send negative messages to those who want to stop smoking. It is not helpful.”

“It is just not fair. As well as being financially punitive to people who vape, it can also send negative messages to those who want to stop smoking. It is not helpful.”Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at Stirling University

In response to this, the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA), wrote a letter to the CEO of the Association of British Insurers, Mr. Paul Evans, asking him for fair insurance  policies that reflect the difference in health risks between vaping and smoking.

Letter to Association of British Insurers

Dear Mr Evans,

We are writing with regard to the practice of insurance companies classifying vapers as smokers for life insurance purposes.

The Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA) is the UK’s leading trade association for the vape industry, and the only one dedicated exclusively to the independent sector.  All IBVTA members are free from any control or ownership from the tobacco or pharmaceutical industries.

When a smoker switches to vaping, they are recognised as no longer being a smoker.  However, when it comes to life insurance, they are still considered a smoker, and this is reflected in their life insurance premiums, which are often twice as expensive as they are for non-smokers [1].

We believe that the insurance industry needs to change the way it treats people who vape, and recognise the fact that they are no longer smokers.  There is no rational justification for treating vapers like smokers for insurance purposes, and many of the concerns expressed by the insurance industry are without foundation.

By treating vapers like smokers, all the insurance industry is doing is disincentivizing a smoker from switching to vaping.  As Professor Linda Bauld from Stirling University has said: “If vapers are regarded as being the same as tobacco smokers it could lead to an attitude of ‘why bother’ and before you know it they are back at the corner shop buying cigarettes.” [2]

Is vaping less harmful than smoking?

There is never a situation where it is better to smoke than it is to vape.  According to independent studies by Public Health England and The Royal College of Physicians vaping is recognised as being at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking [3].  This position is also supported by The Royal College of General Practitioners [4] and many other independent medical and public health bodies [5].

Do we know what is in e-liquid?

E-liquid contains: nicotine (though not always), propylene glycol, glycerine, and flavorings.

Is nicotine, when consumed by a vaper in e-liquid dangerous?

Pure nicotine is a toxic substance and should be handled with care.  The vast majority of e-liquid on the UK market is below 2.0 per cent nicotine strength.  Warnings of serious toxicological incidents resulting from e-liquid exposure are unjustified and not supported by available studies [6].  E-liquid has a very low level of toxicity whether it is 18mg/ml or 36mg/ml.

The vast majority of e-liquids will contain pharmaceutical grade nicotine.  It is MHRA and FDA approved and the same as that used in NRT products.

Nicotine is addictive when consumed via cigarette smoke.  However, as Professor Linda Bauld and others have made clear, nicotine when consumed in a form other than tobacco is not a particularly addictive substance [7].  Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology and Director of Tobacco Studies at University College London’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health said: “E-cigarettes are about as safe as you can get.  We know about the health risks of nicotine.  Nicotine is not what kills you when you smoke tobacco.  Vaping is probably about as safe as drinking coffee.” [8] Recently a number of bodies including ASH [9] and the Royal Society of Public Health [10] called for more to be done to ensure the public understand that nicotine is ‘not the deadly component in cigarettes.’

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and the MHRA have ruled that long term use of nicotine is not detrimental to the health of the user [11].  A ruling that was specifically sought to allow clinicians to prescribe nicotine containing products to pregnant women.

Is vaping in the UK regulated?

Vaping in the UK is heavily regulated, and in some instances vaping is more heavily regulated than some tobacco products.  The primary regulation for vape products in the UK is the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016.  These regulations place restrictions on nicotine strength, advertising, bottle and tank sizes.  They also impose legal requirements on companies to test devices and liquids and to notify the results to the authorities.

There is no justification for treating vaping like smoking

Vape products – e-cigarettes and e-liquids – represent a market-based, user-driven, public health insurgency.  No public money has been spent, yet smokers are switching and cutting down as a direct result of vaping.  There are currently 2.9 million vapers in the UK, of whom 1.5 million have stopped smoking completely [12].

The principle of non-discrimination as articulated by the Court of Justice of the European Union states:

The principle of equal treatment or non-discrimination requires that comparable situations must not be treated differently and that different situations must not be treated in the same way unless such treatment can be objectively justified. [13]

Vaping is not smoking, vape products are not tobacco products, vapers are not smokers, and the overwhelming majority – at least 85 per cent – of the vape industry in the UK has no links to the tobacco industry.

Smoking actually damages people’s health and leads to premature death, whereas vaping does not.  It therefore follows that vaping must be treated differently under this principle and therefore vapers should not be classified as smokers for the purposes of insurance.  Under the principle of non-discrimination, it is not only acceptable to treat vape products differently, it is a requirement.

We hope that you will take on board the very real concerns that we and others have raised on this subject, and that as an industry you will change the way you view vaping, based on independent research.  If you would like to discuss this further, we would be happy to meet with you.