England is the first country in the world to recommend vaping to smokers as part of its official tobacco control plan. The 32-page document was released Tuesday. It applies only to England, not the entire United Kingdom, which also includes Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
“This is probably the first significant government policy paper anywhere that recognises and pursues the opportunities of tobacco harm reduction, rather than defining these technologies as a threat to be suppressed,” wrote Clive Bates in his blog.
The plan is starkly different from American tobacco control efforts. The idea that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), or the California Department of Public Health, might actually recommend that smokers use reduced-risk products like e-cigarettes to improve their health is about as likely as Stanton Glantz tearing open a pack of Kools and lighting up at a UCSF fundraiser.
England has been a pioneer — the pioneer — in promoting vaping to smokers. It wasn’t that long ago — just two years, in fact, in 2015 — when Public Health England’s “E-cigarettes: an evidence update” shook the foundations of tobacco control, and defined the divide in public health between harm reduction and prohibition.
Last year, PHE issued guidance to employers, reminding them, “Different approaches will be appropriate in different places, but policies should take account of the evidence and clearly distinguish vaping from smoking.”
The tobacco control plan makes that advice more official. “This recognises that decisions on vaping policy should rest with owners and managers of premises – and that the justification to override the preferences of property owners with blanket vape-free laws does not exist,” writes Clive Bates. “This is an ethically robust position to take.”
The hated Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) provoked many vapers to vote to leave the European Union last year. The tobacco control plan provides the first official hint that England could possibly abandon the TPD after the U.K. exits the E.U.
“We will look to identify where we can sensibly deregulate without harming public health or where EU regulations limit our ability to deal with tobacco,” says the Department of Health. “In particular, the government will assess recent legislation such as the Tobacco Products Directive, including as it applies to e-cigarettes, and consider where the UK’s exit provides opportunity to alter the legislative provisions to provide for improved health outcomes within the UK context.”
That would be a welcome development for vapers and vaping businesses. The disruption to the market caused by the pointless regulations of the TPD has caused some vape companies in the U.K. to close, and forced vapers to hack devices and DIY e-liquid to have workable gear.