The government set an ambitious target to achieve a smoke-free UK by 2030, which means less than 5% of the population would be smokers. Promises were made, plans announced, but MPs recently agreed that little has be done over the last three years and the target will be missed. A harm reduction specialist believes it could be achieved if the government increases its support for vaping and relaxes the indefensible rules.
At a recent event in the House of Commons, hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, MPs and public health experts all agreed that the government could have done much more to achieve Smokefree 2030.
Action on Smoking and Health’s Deborah Arnott summed up the current position. She was delighted when the 2030 target was announced, “but nearly three years have passed and there’s still no plan, no investment and, on current trends, no chance of success.”
Member of Parliament Bob Blackman pressed the government to place a tax on the tobacco industry to be used to fund smoking cessation programmes, something Matt Hancock promised in 2019. The idea is that it would plug the gap created by budget cuts to tobacco control funding by one third.
Dr Sharon Cox, a Senior Research Fellow at University College London believes the target could be achieved without the need for extra government spending – a free win for the currently beleaguered administration.
With a history of researching how vaping can help socially disadvantaged groups, Dr Cox has built up an excellent understanding of how well e-cigs work as a quit tool and the research supporting its relative safety.
A commonly used analogy is that smoking related deaths are the equivalent to a plane full of passengers falling out of the sky every day. Sharon Cox says this is a misleading statement because of who is on the plane and where it crashes on the ground. Out of the 200 people dying daily, most of them are from disadvantaged communities.
The impact of the funding cuts to cessation services is making the matter worse, she says. Plus, people from disadvantaged groups are far harder to support through the quit process.
This can be addressed, she believes, through increasing smoking cessation support and advice to promote vaping better. Also, the government needs to look at the regulations it brought in to play in 2016.
Firstly, ministers could remove the limit to nicotine content in e-liquid. Capped at a maximum of 20mg/ml, Dr Cox says that increasing the volume of nicotine will help hardened smokers to switch.
From her own work: “A small study has shown that for adults with schizophrenia, use of a high concentration nicotine e-cigarette improved quit rates compared with a lower concentration. There is growing evidence that adult smokers accessing homeless services prefer e-cigarettes over other cessation methods.”
Consumer group The New Nicotine Alliance agree and adds that the government should also consider removing the limit to eliquid bottle volume and tank size; increasing the usability of vape products would make them more appealing to smokers.
Given the huge success vaping has delivered to the UK so far, it would be brilliant to see support expanded in the future.