Public Health England Pushes Vaping Message

April 29, 2022 5 min read

Public Health England (PHE) has launched a new campaign to encourage smokers to quit in the new year, and the message is that vaping is considerably less harmful to your health than conventional cigarettes.

The organisation’s Health Harms campaign includes a video that visually demonstrates the high levels of tar and cancer-causing chemicals that are inhaled by the average smoker every month, compared to a non-smoker or someone who only vapes.

It’s a stark message and one that clearly shows the benefits of vaping over conventional cigarettes, if you are unable to go cold turkey when you quit. PHE also pointed out that, although vaping isn’t risk free, it’s estimated to be 95 per cent less harmful than smoking.

Although 2.5 million people already use e-cigarettes in England, PHE is keen for more people to swap to vaping over conventional smoking. And one of the concerns the organisation has is that smokers don’t fully understand the health benefits of making the switch.

A survey carried out by the body found that 44 per cent of smokers either believe that vaping is just as harmful as smoking (22 per cent) or are unaware that vaping poses a much lower risk to their health (22 per cent).

Director of health improvement at PHE Professor John Newton commented: “It would be tragic if thousands of smokers who could quit with the help of an e-cigarette are being put off due to false fears about safety.”

He added that the organisation wants to “encourage more smokers to try and quit completely with the help of an e-cigarette, or by using other nicotine replacement”.

According to PHE, of the 6.1 million smokers in England, 60 per cent want to quit. However, many of them try to do so without any assistance and using willpower alone, which has been shown to be the least effective way of kicking the habit.

Dr Lion Shahab, leading smoking cessation academic at University College London, said that research supports the use of vaping as a substitute for cigarettes when people are trying to quit.

He said: “Research we and others have conducted shows that vaping is much less harmful than smoking and that using e-cigarettes on a long-term basis is relatively safe, similar to using licensed nicotine products.”

If you’ve been on the fence about whether to invest in eliquids & vape kits and use an e-cigarette to help you stop smoking, this latest push from PHE could encourage you and demonstrates that it’s actually a relatively safe way to go.

What’s more, research indicates that people who use e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking are less likely to start again than those who choose other methods.

NHS GP Dr Rosemary Leonard said that she’s often surprised by the misconceptions people have about vaping and stressed that “no matter how old you are, it’s never too late to stop”.

Part of the problem, according to Martin Dockrell, head of the tobacco control programme at PHE, is that people are inclined to believe what they want to hear about a particular approach. Speaking to the Guardian, he explained that there’s been a lot of misinformation in the media about vaping.

“People don’t know who to believe and they believe the thing that suits them best,” he asserted.

The newspaper highlighted one common myth that surrounds vaping - the worry that people will develop a condition known as popcorn lung. However, the chemical that causes this (diacetyl) and which is found in e-cigarettes, is also present in conventional cigarettes. In fact, the levels in regular cigarettes are 100 times higher than those in e-cigarettes.

But if you switch to vaping, does that change the rules on where you’re allowed to smoke when it comes to your workplace? According to a recent article for Business Matters magazine, generally not. At present, vaping is typically dealt with under the same anti-smoking legislation as cigarettes.

Although guidance from PHE indicates that employers should consider “supporting smokers to stay smoke-free” when coming up with rules around vaping at work, it also states that any policy needs to be “supporting compliance with smoke-free law and policies”.

As the legislation hasn’t been updated since it was first introduced in 2007, it is still illegal to smoke in all enclosed workspaces in England. Vaping is still relatively new and wasn’t a consideration when the legislation was initially drafted and passed.

However, because it is still new, PHE has taken the stance that it’s better to be viewed under health consideration in the same way smoking was. As a result, a change in the law in this respect is unlikely in the near future - especially given that the government currently has more than enough on its plate with Brexit.

If you’re giving up smoking, it actually won’t make that much of a difference to your routine, in that you’ll still have to leave a building to vape, just as you would have done if you were smoking.

That said, PHE stated that it would continue to monitor the research and evidence surrounding e-cigarettes as they became more established, so its guidance in relation to vaping in enclosed public spaces may change.

In the initial statement from 2016, the organisation acknowledged that there was no “one-size-fits-all approach” and that workplaces are very different across industries. As a result, it set out the five principles, which were also outlined in the Business Matters article, to help businesses set appropriate policies.

As well as those already mentioned, the organisation noted that any policy needs to make a “clear distinction” between vaping and smoking, as well as “identify and manage risks of uptake by children and young people”. Finally, businesses need to make sure that their policies are “informed by the evidence on health risks to bystanders”.

In August, the Morning Advertiser reported on the continued debate over whether vaping should be allowed in some places, such as pubs and bars. The current legislation allows venues to set their own policies and while many still ban vaping indoors, they don’t have to.

Speaking to the news provider, Kate Nicholls, UK Hospitality chief executive, said that the current system, whereby businesses can introduce their own policies, seems to be working and is therefore preferable to new legislation.

“This provides flexibility for businesses that legislation, obviously, will not and we are not aware of any issues from our members or evidence that this causes any friction with customers,” she said.

A poll conducted by the paper found that 73 per cent of people would not be in favour of vaping being allowed in a pub, and would prefer that it remain restricted to outdoor areas.

The vast majority of businesses stick with a blanket no smoking policy, with one brewery explaining that it’s easier for staff to police if there are no exceptions to that rule. In addition, the news provider pointed out that just 2.5 million people in England vape, which might sound like a lot but still puts them firmly in a minority in a country with a population of over 54 million.

Even if every smoker in England switched to e-cigarettes, that would still be fewer than 10 million people.

But it’s clear that PHE is hoping that its latest campaign will get some smokers to reconsider their opinions of e-cigarettes and use them to help quit smoking. The number of people who smoke cigarettes is steadily falling in the UK, with the latest figures showing that between 2016 and 2017 it fell from 15.8 per cent to 15.1 per cent of the population.