What the US Can Learn From the UK about Vaping

Commentary

What the US Can Learn From the UK about Vaping

According to the report, the number of vapers who now classify themselves as ex-smokers rose 10 percent in a year to 850,000 and 470 people a day switched exclusively to e-cigarettes in the last two years.

British smokers are switching to e-cigarettes faster than anyone else in Europe, according to a report from Ernst & Young, one of the United Kingdom’s top accountancy firms.

The number of Brits vaping surged to 2.2 million in 2016, an increase of 55 percent in just three years, bringing the total portion of adults using e-cigarettes to 4.2 percent of the population.

The biggest motivation for consumers taking up vaping was the fact that e-cigarettes are a far safer alternative to regular tobacco cigarettes.

According to the report, the number of vapers who now classify themselves as ex-smokers rose 10 percent in a year to 850,000 and 470 people a day switched exclusively to e-cigarettes in the last two years.

In a further blow to anti-vaping diehards, the proportion of adults who use both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes dropped by 45 percent in three years and now stands at around 750,000, a third of the total number of people vaping. E-cigarette critics often claim vaping complements smoking and makes it harder to quit.

The remarkable rise of vaping in the U.K. has been assisted by public health bodies recognizing the value of harm reduction over nicotine abstinence.

In a landmark report published in 2016, the Royal College of Physicians said smokers should be encouraged to try e-cigarettes to help them quit. The RCP also came to the same conclusion as Public Health England that e-cigarettes are at least 95 percent safer than regular cigarettes.

Even the U.K.’s most committed anti-smoking groups such as Action on Smoking and Health are cautiously supportive of vapor products as a smoking cessation tool.

With the support of health authorities and a relatively liberal regulatory regime, innovation and entrepreneurship are thriving in the U.K., providing consumers with a vast array of affordable options to help them switch from smoking to vaping.

“Consumers are driving innovation in devices, flavors and nicotine levels,” says Peter Arnold, a director at EY. “There are now more regular consumers and evidence of increased migration from dual to sole use,” he added.

The U.K.’s attitude toward e-cigarettes and reduced risk products is the polar opposite of the United States public health establishment, which has set its face against tobacco harm reduction in favor of an evidence-free, abstinence-only approach to vaping.

A cottage industry has emerged in the U.S., especially in the media, dedicated to peddling falsehoods about the relative risks of e-cigarettes and pushing a totally unproven narrative that vaping is a gateway to smoking.

Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration has been leading the charge against e-cigarette innovation and small businesses by introducing regulations which will wipe out the bulk of the native industry unless they are heavily amended or scrapped altogether.

If U.S. anti-smoking activists are serious about saving lives, they should drop their dedication to the rigid dogma of nicotine abstinence and take a page out of the U.K.’s book and encourage reduced-risk options like e-cigarettes for those looking to quit smoking.

This column first appeared in the Washington Examiner.

Guy Bentley is director of consumer freedom at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.