The report discusses how vapes may play a role in helping people quit smoking, whilst carefully considering how to prevent young people and those who have never smoked from taking up vaping.
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has released a comprehensive report examining the potential benefits of e-cigarettes in reducing the harm caused by smoking. Titled “E-cigarettes and Harm Reduction: An Evidence Review,” the report explores how vaping help prevent deaths, disabilities, and inequalities arising from combustible tobacco consumption.

The report focuses on various aspects of e-cigarette use. It discusses how vapes may play a role in helping people quit smoking, whilst carefully considering how to prevent young people and those who have never smoked from taking up vaping. It also looks into current trends in tobacco and e-cigarette use, assessing the effectiveness vaping in treating tobacco addiction, and considers its health impacts on those who smoke, vape, or do neither. The report also addresses the influence of the tobacco industry on the growing popularity of vapes and the ethical considerations associated with them.

With over 50 recommendations, the report underlines that e-cigarettes are valuable in reducing the burden of tobacco use. However, it suggests that more should be done to limit their appeal, availability, and affordability for non-smokers, particularly children and young people. The report also mentions the importance of minimizing the environmental impacts associated with the products, and recommends regulatory measures to safeguard young people and non-smokers from vaping.

The RCP’s recommendations

These recommendations include: setting the right pricing and banning multi-buy offers, whilst allowing the products to remain a more affordable option for adults seeking to quit smoking; Enforcing the existing age restrictions on sales; Monitor and restrict the marketing and advertising of the products; and set standardized packaging to make the products less appealing to youngsters.

In a recent blog about the RCP report, smoking cessation expert Dr. Colin Mendelsohn highlighted that sadly the recommended approach contrasts greatly with the outdated tobacco control strategy adopted by Australia. Down under smokers wishing to switch to vaping face multiple barriers due to the restrictions in place, and this is reflected in a stall in local quit smoking rates.

This latest report follows prior RCP publications on e-cigarettes and vaping. A 2007 report, “Harm Reduction in Nicotine Addiction,” discussed alternative nicotine products, their regulation, and their potential to help people quit smoking. It recommended formalizing regulations for these products.

While a 2016 report, “Nicotine Without Smoke,” revisited the data on e-cigarettes and alternative nicotine products, confirming that e-cigarettes are effective in aiding smoking cessation. It also recommended ongoing surveillance to monitor the impact of regulations and address any unforeseen outcomes.

Could standardized vape packaging be a sensible alternative to the proposed ban?

Reiterating one of the recommendations made by the report, Dr. Debbie Robson, a senior lecturer at King’s College London, has recently said that instead of a complete ban on disposable vapes, the government should consider milder strategies, such as a ban on colourful vape packaging and stricter fines for retailers selling vapes to under-18s.

She referred to a study published in 2023 indicating that 11-18-year-olds exposed to standardized packaging were less likely to find vaping products attractive, whereas adults’ interest remained unchanged regardless of the packaging. Additionally, highlighted Dr. Robson, 84.3% of young vapers prefer sweet-flavoured e-cigarettes, indicating that flavour is a major driver of youth vaping.

However, she added, aside from the fact that flavours are also popular among adults, there is also the issue that bans are not effective at preventing consumption as consumers always find ways to go around them. In fact data have consistently shown that in places where harsh bans are in place, such as Australia, there are always thriving black markets of the products banned.

While Deputy Chief Executive of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), Hazel Cheeseman, remarked that the growing popularity of disposable vapes has contributed to the vaping trend. However, she emphasized, further regulations on vapes should avoid reducing their appeal to adults using them to quit smoking.

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