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UK parliamentary report blows hole in anti-vaping arguments

A new report by the British parliament’s Science and Technology Committee puts the UK government under even more pressure to abandon the EU’s anti-vaping laws, at the same time as further isolating the few academics and health activists who still oppose e-cigarettes. Although led by Norman Lamb MP, a member of the anti-vaping Liberal Democratic Party, the committee concluded that e-cigs are a powerful harm reduction tool that should be encouraged. Key findings included:

  • That there is clear evidence vapour products are “substantially less harmful” than cigarettes (PHE’s figure of 95% safer is cited), thanks mainly to the absence of tar and carbon monoxide, and that the alleged risks of “second-hand vapour” are so negligible they can’t even be meaningfully measured.
  • Heat not Burn products are also estimated to be around 90% safer than cigarettes, although the committee pointed out that evidence on this is more limited.
  • While it’s impossible to be sure about any long-term effects of vaping, this must be balanced against the fact that we already know any effects that do exist will be much less harmful than the known effects of smoking.
  • Tens of thousands of smokers successfully quit using e-cigarettes every year, while concerns about a so-called “gateway” effect from vaping to smoking have proven to be unfounded.
  • More attention should be paid to smoking cessation among people with mental health issues. It is “unacceptable” that a third of NHS mental health units enforce vaping bans.
  • A medically licensed e-cigarette would make it easier for medical professionals to discuss and recommend the devices with their patients.
  • The NHS’s refusal to tell the committee how it is working to encourage innovative solutions like vaping is a concern.
  • The EU-imposed limits on nicotine strength and tank size, and the ban on advertising, are holding back harm reduction efforts and are not founded on any scientific rationale; the government should review EU legislation on reduced-harm products, including the ban on snus, to see if they are appropriate.

While the report has been attacked by some campaigners, notably Martin McKee and Simon Capewell, it has been broadly welcomed by UK health groups. The task for advocates now is to pressure the government to act on the report, particularly on getting the EU TPD removed from British law.

Aussie Liberals demand end to vaping ban

Another crack has appeared in Australia’s anti-harm reduction consensus as the Western Australia Division of the Liberal party called on the state government to legalise the same of nicotine e-liquids and “welcome the associated technology as a method to help Western Australians quit smoking.”

The Liberal party forms the current Australian government, which has generally maintained the country’s hostile stance towards vaping, but recently party members have begun to break ranks and call for a more liberal approach. The Australian Liberals are a centre-right party and contain a strong free market tradition, which now seems to recognise the importance of vaping as an alternative for smokers. Recent polls in Western Australia show that around 70% of the public are opposed to the ban and want to see vaping legalised.

Birmingham vape study slammed by advocates

A study released on Tuesday by a team from the University of Birmingham claimed to have found evidence of lung damage caused by vaping – but was immediately demolished by the New Nicotine Alliance, other vaping advocates and scientists.

The study, whose lead author was Professor David Thickett, tested the effects of condensed e-cigarette vapour on human cells collected from donors. However, while the experiment was conducted scientifically as far as it went, it doesn’t actually tell us anything useful. Firstly, the cells were in a petri dish; while that can give some basic information about toxicity it doesn’t really say much about how cells in a living human body will be affected. Secondly, there was no comparison between vapour and cigarette smoke. Even if vapour does carry some slight risks, the relevant comparison isn’t to no vapour; it’s to smoke.

In a harsh statement on Tuesday the NNA condemned the study as adding nothing significant to our understanding of vaping. They also warned that Thickett appears to have an ideological opposition to harm reduction, pointing out that he repeated inaccurate claims that the tobacco industry is a major player in vaping.

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