Research Group Presses On

The UK E-Cigarette Research Forum was set up by Cancer Research UK, Public Health England and the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies. The aim of the forum has been to bring together experts from academic research, policy decision makers and the charity/NGO sector. Together they review the emerging evidence about vaping and identify the knowledge gaps which require further investigation. The Forum met during the same week as the Prime Minister announced his vape bans to push forward with promoting facts and evidence.

How vape policies are changing in the UK
The Forum listened attentively as it was explained that the UK is set to introduce the Tobacco and Vapes Bill, which we covered last week.
The experts heard how the tobacco industry threatened to take legal action in an attempt to water down the proposals. The main focus was to eliminate heated tobacco products from the proposed legislation, but in the end it didn’t happen.

Scotland is moving forward with its Tobacco and Vaping Framework too which will include a new a media campaign about vaping. Scotland has also introduced an advertising ban, “to reduce the promotion and advertising of e-cigarettes to children”.

How e-cigarette policies are changing around the world
Ireland has introduced an under-18 vape sale ban and Australia has brought in a complete ban on the importation and sale of disposable vapes.
Meanwhile, New Zealand has reversed the pledge to introduce a rolling age rise to purchase tobacco, a key part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Tobacco and Vapes Bill. They decided to keep the new regulation that means ecigs can only be sold through licenced vendors, something the vape industry and many of the academics in the UK E-Cigarette Research Forum have been calling to happen in the UK in place of the disposables ban and flavour restriction.

All of these events are currently being discussed in Panama, where the World Health Organization is holding its tenth Conference of Parties to the Framework Convention for Tobacco Control.
The World Health Organization is calling on all nations to ban vaping completely. For any country not prepared to go that far, the World Health Organization is calling on them to implement strict bans on open vape systems and the flavours of eliquids.

It’s all about the evidence
The UK E-Cigarette Research Forum is committed to evidence-based regulations and legislation. Attendees at meeting expressed concern that too much attention is being directed by the World Health Organization at vapes and not at tobacco cigarettes.
Currently, researchers at Stirling University are looking at health warnings and nicotine descriptors on vape packaging and the Scottish Centre for Social Research is conducting a deep dive project looking at how adults use disposable ecigs and what impact a ban might have on successfully quitting smoking.

Published research looking at vapes and vaping
Dr Nicola Lindson from the University of Oxford updated the meeting on the latest findings from the Cochrane living review. She told them how one more study has been included in the review’s catalogue, which found that 17.3% of subject successfully quit smoking by using a vape while just 3.7% managed to quit using traditional quit products like patches, sprays and gum.
The live review now covers all research published up to July 1st, 2023, and will continue to add further peer-reviewed studies after that in its next publication. Also, Cancer Research UK is funding a new living review to cover vaping cessation. Cochrane is currently reviewing the protocol for the review and the monthly searches are set to begin soon.

Dr Katherine East from King’s College London told attendees about their cross-sectional survey. Covering 500 adults who smoke and/or vape, the subjects were asked about what they thought might contribute to vaping harm misperceptions.

She said: “Participants could select up to 15 vape features that they thought could contribute to health harms caused by vaping, such as nicotine concentration, device type (disposable vs reusable), and material of the tank. Of those features selected, participants were then asked to which degree each feature was perceived as harmful.”
Most people said stronger nicotine concentration and the amount of e-liquid consumed contributed towards harm. The research team are now going to look at why people hold these false beliefs.

Dr Sarah Jackson from University College London also addressed the subject of the harm perceptions of e-cigarettes. She noted how perceptions of vapes has “deteriorated steadily over time and as a result, only around 1/3 of young people now believe they’re less harmful than smoking.”

Data from Action on Smoking and Health also displays a rise in the number of adults believing vapes are equally or more harmful than cigarettes.

Dr Jackson said that “most people now think vaping is equally or more harmful than smoking,” which could explain why the public supports the Tobacco and Vapes Bill. She said we need a public health information campaign to address the misconceptions.

Talking about e-cigarettes – towards common ground and a rational approach
Finally, Action on Smoking and Health’s Chair, Professor Nick Hopkinson, said: “A major issue with vaping is that it distracts from talking about smoking cessation and tobacco control.”
He said that the academic community, politicians and the media are far too busy discussing the safety of vapes, the regulation of vapes, marketing to children, nicotine and tobacco industry involvement. This is diverting attention away from the real problem of tobacco related disease and death, he argued.
In addition, “Poor communication regarding vapes can lead to unfavourable public health outcomes and policy making. Failure to consider the complexity and the emotional charge related to vaping discussions (e.g., marketing to children, or ‘popcorn lung’) can lead to anger and stress.”

Can the UK E-Cigarette Research Forum make a difference?
We’ve seen the benefits of the Forum over the last decade as recommendations from it influenced evidence-based legislation. Members were ignored by the Prime Minister when they cautioned against banning disposables and restricting flavours, hopefully its work in the future will influence the new Prime Minister after the general election.