The UK’s U-Turn From THR Leader to Imposer of Irrational Vape Restrictions

UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has recently unveiled a new tax as part of the national budget. Set to take effect in 2026, the tax aims to deter vaping among young individuals and non-smokers, and will be applied based on nicotine content. To this effect, nicotine-free e-liquids would carry an additional £1 charge per 10 millilitres, while higher-nicotine variants will incur an extra £3 per 10 ml.

Naturally, the decision to implement this tax has drawn criticism from tobacco harm reduction (THR) and public health experts. Previously, these experts had lauded the UK’s tobacco control strategy, which included endorsing vaping as a smoking cessation tool, and aimed to achieve a “smoke-free” status by 2030.

The government is taxing the same products it is promoting as smoking cessation tools
The New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) has openly criticized the UK government’s approval of the tax, labelling it as damaging both in principle and in practice. In line with arguments by countless THR experts, the group highlighted that the tax undermines the country’s former position as a world leader in reducing smoking prevalence through innovative harm reduction strategies.

In fact, the government’s decision is seen as contradictory, as it undermines its own “Swap to Stop” campaign by taxing the very products it promotes for smoking cessation. Furthermore, argues the NNA, the tax demonstrates a lack of understanding of how vaping devices help reduce smoking rates, and is expected to worsen public misconceptions about the relative harms of vaping compared to smoking, ultimately harming public health.

The charity highlighted that the Chancellor’s approach not only unfairly punishes vaping leading to potential loss of lives, but also that the government’s documents supporting it lack scientific understanding and made flawed assumptions. The NNA emphasized the importance of consulting industry and consumer representatives to avoid such detrimental policies and call for a reassessment of the vape tax proposal.

Clive Bates, former Director of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), reiterated that taxing vapes is counterproductive to public health goals, as it makes switching from smoking to vaping more expensive and less appealing. He suggested focusing on licensing retailers and addressing irresponsible marketing instead.

While nations are encouraged to replicate Sweden’s success, the UK decided to head in the opposite direction
Meanwhile, a recent ground-breaking conference ‘Quit Like Sweden‘ was held in Brasilia on April 10, 2024, marking a significant milestone in the global fight against smoking. Led by anti-smoking advocate Suely Castro, the event aimed to inspire countries worldwide to replicate Sweden’s success in achieving a smoke-free society.

The event brought together leading international public health experts, policymakers, and consumers to address one of the world’s most challenging health issues. In sessions focusing on public health policymaking, experts such as Dr. Roberto Sussman, Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos, Dr. Chris Russell, David Sweanor, and Dr. Marewa Glover shared insights into policy development and implementation. Discussions revolved around leveraging scientific evidence, behavioural psychology, and legal frameworks to promote smoking cessation and harm reduction initiatives.

Incorporating most of the the above, and characterized by comprehensive cessation and prevention strategies alongside policies promoting alternatives to smoking, Sweden’s approach has led to a remarkable reduction in smoking prevalence, nearing the official ‘smoke-free’ threshold of 5%.

Sadly, until only a few months ago, the UK was considered on par with Sweden with regards to its progressive tobacco control strategy, and success in decreasing local smoking rates. However, recent alarmist reports about an alleged shocking increase in teen vaping, has brought about a wave of panic accompanied by a set of new senseless and unneeded vape restrictions, including the Chancellor’s tax.