My Times Thunderer article on vaping:
The government now says vaping with e-cigarettes is such a good thing that we should be prescribing it and smokers should be rushing to take it up. It’s 95 per cent less harmful than smoking, it’s helping people to quit tobacco and there’s no evidence it’s a gateway into smoking: rather the reverse.
Doing a U-turn when you’ve spent two years building brick walls on the other carriageway is challenging. The obstacles that the government will face in encouraging vaping are more than a little of its own making. The Public Health England review that changed the government’s mind is concerned “that increasing numbers of people think e-cigarettes are equally or more harmful than smoking”.
I wonder why people think that. Could it have anything to do with the fact that in the government’s last major announcement on e-cigarettes in June 2013 it recommended (through the Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, or MHRA) “that people do not use them”? Or that last year the chief medical officer told New Scientist that e-cigarettes were one of the UK’s three great health threats?
Or that in September 2013, the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was lobbying MEPs to create heavy regulations on e-cigarettes by insisting that all should be regulated as medicines? This resulted in an effective ban on strong e-cigarettes and on consumer advertising — which will come into force next year.
The truth is, the evidence that vaping is a game-changer in the fight against tobacco has been obvious for years, but a combination of yuk-factor gut instinct, drug-company lobbying and dislike of private sector innovation led the public health mandarins to build obstacles to it.
The new report is full of delicious coded admissions that this was a big mistake: “The absence of non-tobacco industry products going through the MHRA licensing process suggests that the process is inadvertently favouring larger manufacturers, including the tobacco industry, which is likely to inhibit innovation in the prescription market.” Yup, some of us made that point a while ago.
The Department of Health should have done a proper impact assessment at the start. The extraordinary result is that Mr Hunt will now have to navigate the onerous regulations of vaping that he was the driving force in imposing across Europe. Still, he deserves congratulations for having the courage to do a U-turn.