According to an expert report commissioned by Public Health England, e-cigarettes are much less harmful than regular cigarettes. There are still many misconceptions surrounding vaping, however, and the report goes on to state that many people do not realize that using an e-cigarette is significantly less harmful than smoking a regular combustible cigarette.
With shops popping up on corners and in plazas in cities and towns in several countries, there is no denying that vaping is sweeping the world. Still, though, there are some nations that have embraced the practice more than others.
The U.K. is regarded as one of the most “vape-friendly” places in the world. While the United States’ laws surrounding the practice are fairly relaxed as well, the U.S. does not quite share the U.K.’s views. In many ways, however, the U.S. vaping industry could stand to learn a thing or two from the U.K.
Let’s take a closer look at the differing views between the two nations and what the U.S. can learn from the U.K.
The U.K.’s Attitude Toward Reduced Risk Products
Smokers in the U.K. are switching to vaping faster than people residing anywhere else in Europe. In 2016, the number of British vapers surged to 2.2 million. That is an increase of 55% over the course of just three years.
The biggest reason for smokers to switch to vaping? That’s the simple fact that vaping is far safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes.
In reports like the one listed above, British public health officials have touted the value of harm reduction over complete abstinence from nicotine. By focusing more heavily on “reduced products” like e-cigarettes rather than insisting on complete nicotine abstinence, British public health officials have successfully helped millions of people kick their cigarette habits for good in favor of a healthier way to enjoy nicotine—through vaping.
Public Health England’s U.S. counterpart—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—however, have not taken a stance regarding the decreased risk of harm from using e-cigarettes. Rather than taking a harm-reduction stance, the CDC has more of a zero-risk approach. It rejects the idea that replacing regular cigarettes with e-cigarettes is a positive thing and claims that, instead of just taking the place of cigarettes, e-cigarettes are prompting American kids and teens to take up smoking.
While the CDC is focusing on the potential long-term harm of vaping, even the most stringent anti-smoking groups in the U.K. have accepted that vapour products can successfully be used as smoking cessation tools.
Because the products are supported by health authorities and regulations regarding vaping are relatively lax in the U.K., the industry is thriving. Entrepreneurs are bringing new products to the market daily and creating a wide range of affordable options for people who want to kick the cigarette habit and switch to vaping.
The CDC’s “Zero-Risk” Approach and Its Impact on the Vaping Industry
In the United States, vaping is largely treated the same as smoking combustible cigarettes. Places that ban smoking also typically ban vaping. An entire movement has even sprung up that is dedicated to spreading falsehoods about the potential risks of vaping and even pushing the unproven agenda that using e-cigarettes is a gateway to smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has simultaneously been working against the vaping industry by introducing laws and regulations that could prevent e-cigarette innovation and drive entrepreneurs and small business owners out of business.
Without major changes, these regulations have the potential to crush the entire vaping industry. By focusing so heavily on eliminating nicotine use entirely, anti-smoking activists in the United States could rob many current smokers of the opportunity to switch to a safer, healthier alternative.
Tobacco Products vs. Medical Devices
In the U.K., many public health officials want to see e-cigarettes and accessories regulated as medical devices. If they are regulated as such and intended for the purpose of helping smokers quit, it would make it possible to ensure the quality and safety of the products. As regulated medical devices, manufacturers would be forced to use only ingredients—including flavourings—deemed safe for inhalation. Since little is known about the potential inhalation risks of many of the flavourings commonly used, this would help reduce the potential for long-term risks.
While there is some support in the United States for regulating e-cigarettes as medical devices, both the CDC and FDA are more interested in regulating them like tobacco products. As such, there are strict regulations in place for both retailers and manufacturers of e-cigarettes, e-liquids, etc. The FDA even bans manufacturers from making any sort of “modified risk” claim.
What the US Can Learn from the UK
While the U.S. worries about the impact of vaping on American kids and teens, the U.K. is seeing a drastic reduction in the number of people who smoke. Over the last few years, an average of 470 people has switched from tobacco to e-cigarettes daily. The percentage of people using both cigarettes and e-cigarettes has also dropped significantly. The U.K. has clearly embraced the benefits of harm reduction over the insistence of complete nicotine abstinence, and everyone is benefiting.
If the U.S. were to follow the U.K.’s lead, more Americans would kick their cigarette habit and the e-cigarette industry would thrive. Entrepreneurs and small businesses would find incredible success in the industry, which would create jobs, drive tax revenue, and support the economy in cities and towns across the country.
Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that the U.S. will embrace the notion of harm reduction anytime soon. Instead, the CDC and FDA will likely continue to crusade against e-cigarettes and the practice of vaping. Hopefully, though, industry-crushing laws and regulations will not take effect, and people who wish to vape instead of smoke regular cigarettes will continue to be able to do so.