The Government is “missing an opportunity” by not relaxing rules around e-cigarettes, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has said. The Committee’s recommendations include introducing medically licensed, prescribable e-cigarettes and permitting the use of health claims in ads for e-cigarettes. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has told PM that more debate is needed before it makes any changes to its policy on e-cigarettes.
In a report simply titled E-cigarettes, the Select Committee argues that while there may be “uncertainties” about the long-term effects of vaping, tobacco smoke is “substantially more harmful” and poses a greater health risk.
“Existing smokers should be encouraged to give up, but if that is not possible they should switch to e-cigarettes as a considerably less harmful alternative,” the report says.
Concerns around e-cigarettes being a ‘gateway’ for young non-smokers have proven to be largely unfounded, the Committee adds.
The report’s recommendations include:
Committee chair Norman Lamb MP said: “E-cigarettes are a proven stop smoking tool and, while uncertainties undoubtedly remain about their long-term health impact, failing to explore the use of e-cigarettes could lead to the continued use of conventional cigarettes—which currently kill around 79,000 people in England every year. Medically licensed e-cigarettes would make it easier for doctors to discuss and recommend them as a stop smoking tool to aid those quitting smoking.”
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s official policy, first issued in 2014, is that while e-cigarettes have a “potential role” in helping smokers to quit, there are concerns around their long-term safety, and they should still be included in the public spaces smoking ban in all UK nations.
RPS Deputy Director for Scotland Aileen Bryson told PM that this policy is “in the process of being updated”, but that it was unlikely to “change dramatically”. The Society was likely to maintain its emphasis on waiting for more evidence to emerge on the long-term health impact of vaping before making more sweeping revisions, she said.
Ms Bryson said: “In the short term, we know the answer. Smoking tobacco is the cause of so many premature deaths and serious health problems that E-cigs are now obviously a better option. However, the jury is still out on the long-term effects.”
For example, she said, recent studies suggest that e-liquid vapour harms immune cells in the lung, and there is still insufficient evidence around the possible effects of second hand e-cigarette vapour inhalation.
More debate is needed around the specifics of any licences for medicinal use, whether or not they should be available on prescription, and where these products might fit in the “armoury of stop smoking support tools”, Ms Bryson said.
Professor Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at the University of Stirling, welcomed the Committee’s findings: “This report is a welcome and evidence-based respite from all the scare stories we see about vaping… The report shines a light on the mismatch between this evidence and current practice – for example, highlighting the very high rates of smoking in people with mental health problems and the fact that one-third of mental health trusts ban vaping anywhere on their premises.
“Its recommendations are not likely to be popular with all, and some of them may be difficult or complex to implement. But government, regulators and service providers should take note.”
The Select Committee has been criticised for some members’ links with the vaping industry, the Telegraph has reported. Committee chair Norman Lamb spoke in April at the UK Vaping Industry Association’s (UKVIA) industry forum, after which he allowed the lobbying group to directly address his committee.
Oral evidence sessions conducted for the report heard evidence from the British Vape Trade Association, New Nicotine Alliance, British American Tobacco, Philip Morris Limited and Fontem Ventures (the e-cigarette arm of Imperial Tobacco).
Simon Capewell, Professor in Public Health and Policy from Liverpool University, said: "The committee has concentrated solely on "experts" who are e-cig champions. More balanced reviews of the evidence by the World Health Organisation, (US) Food and Drug Administration have concluded that e-cigs are no better for quitting smoking than things like nicotine gum, patches or tablets.”
Mr Lamb rejected claims that the committee was biased in favour of vaping, saying: “The Science and Technology Committee carefully considered evidence from more than 90 organisations including a range of academics, NHS professionals, NICE, and Government departments to inform yesterday’s report. It is my responsibility as Chair of this committee to go out and speak to a range of organisations and individuals about our work.
"I felt it was right that the industry should be able to contribute to our inquiry and their evidence be scrutinised.”