In recent times, it is plain to see that governments have different approaches to health measures. However, there are growing disparities in several different spheres, of which vaping is a prime example. A recent proposal by the current UK government to become the first country in the world to prescribe electronic cigarettes has been heralded as a ‘vaping resolution’ by the mainstream media.
What has led to the UK’s decision to actively promote vaping under the umbrella of medical health care? The reasons are interesting and varied and act as a good counterpoint when viewed through the lens of the current attacks made on vaping in North America.
Here’s what has been reported so far.
The UK Government’s Plan for Vaping and Better Health
Sajid Javid, the relatively newly appointed Health Secretary of the UK, has announced plans to license vaping products as medicines prescribed by doctors to help people stop smoking. If the proposal goes ahead, the UK will be the first country in the world to utilize and prescribe vaping products to help smokers quit.
Experienced vapers have long since been aware of these benefits. Many people have already used vaping as a means to quit smoking, and a recent study has shown that it can actually be effective in achieving this aim, even if participants had no intention to quit.
How this is being reported varies. Some news sources have promoted this move as something positive, highlighting the ultimate goal of getting as many people to quit smoking as possible. Others have reported this proposal as a negative, noting anecdotal evidence with references to things such as ‘popcorn lung’ (which has since been debunked by credible medical journals).
It is interesting to note that while certain news sources have tried their best to spin the plan as a negative, they do acknowledge certain facts that are relevant to the great vaping debate. To quote them directly: –
“Health experts agree that the devices are much safer than smoking.”
“[Smoking] rates are at record low levels in the UK.”
“In 2017, e-cigarettes helped more than 50,000 smokers in England to quit.”
“Some of the highest success rates of those trying to quit smoking are among people using an e-cigarette to kick their addiction… With up to 68% successfully quitting in 2020/21.”
If none of the above sounds like a bad thing, that’s because it isn’t.
Why has the UK taken this proactive approach?
There are a few reasons.
The UK Health Secretary has taken a firm stance on health disparities amongst different social classes in the UK. It is a well-proven fact, regardless of geographic location, that those from poorer backgrounds tend to smoke more. The two sources, one from the US and the other from the UK, show very similar results.
By prescribing e-cigarettes under the National Health Service, which is free in the UK, people of lower incomes will have the means to access this lifesaving technology.
While there are voices who say that taxpayers’ money shouldn’t be spent on things that can be bought in brick and mortar stores (as well as online) in the UK, this is actually a little short-sighted.
The price of providing this technology on the National Health Service pales in comparison to the financial burden smokers impose on the system. It is estimated that in 2015, smoking cost the health service a total of £2.6 billion. Working on the UK government’s own figures of 2.7 million adult vapers at present, each vaper would have to satisfy a yearly spend of around £962 before the taxpayer was in negative equity.
Vaping, Moral Outrage, and Social Disparity
When we use the term ‘moral outrage’ and vaping in the same sentence, you’ll find that people’s thoughts are instinctively drawn to a particular side of the debate.
Some US readers will feel ‘moral outrage’ at the barrage of restrictions that have been placed on vaping over the last year. Others may feel aggrieved that their own government seems to ignore the fact that restrictions in vaping have reversed the trend of a decline in smoking in recent years.
And, sadly, there will be the ill-informed who express “moral outrage” that the youth are being put ‘at risk’ by vaping (although it has since been proved that the youth vaping “epidemic” is a fallacy) .
Sajid Javid, The UK Health Secretary, has expressed moral outrage that people of means live up to ten years longer than those from poorer backgrounds. In the simplest terms, helping people to quit smoking increases life expectancy. The previously mentioned proposal will benefit people “whatever their background”.
While it is easy to dismiss the notion and put it down to different health authorities having different priorities, the data leading to the decision exists in other areas too. This does include North America.
As early as August last year we reported that several studies have shown that vaping is both less harmful than smoking and can be used as an effective tool to quit. Even the CDC has published reports showing a correlation between vaping and stopping smoking.
So why the disparity in policy? Unless health outcomes change when you cross the Atlantic, there should be no difference?
In reality, there isn’t. Vaping can help people to quit. There are obvious reasons why the US differs in its approach.
Lobbying from anti-vaping pressure groups forms a big part of the problem.
The saying goes, “he who pays the piper calls the tune”.
The “piper” being elected representatives.
The payers are varied.
Big tobacco is one key player. It is no coincidence that of the infinitesimal number of PMTAs that actually gained approval, most if not all are owned and produced by companies falling under the ‘big tobacco’ umbrella. Others, such as the Campaign for ‘Tobacco Free’ Kids, are another example. They neglect to mention that they are Bloomberg funded. Policy overreach by the aforementioned ‘donor’ elsewhere has likely led to increased smoking in developing nations.
With this sort of backing and pressure, it could be said that health outcomes in North America are being affected negatively. The fact that other developed western nations are actively promoting it under a free health service makes the contrast even more startling.
A government being pro vaping is a good thing. A government that actively promotes vaping as part of its healthcare strategy is a very good thing. While various international administrations are under no obligation to follow the same rules, there should be a consensus regarding public health, especially when reports from “both sides of the pond” show the same data. Poorer people are more likely to smoke, and vaping works effectively to help people stop smoking.
This isn’t a controversial point but is based on real-world, peer-reviewed data. Thankfully, it would appear that the UK administration recognizes both of these facts. If only other administrations could too?