Major doctors' group calls for e-cigarette campaigns

The prestigious Royal College of Physicians is calling on UK politicians and authorities to actively support smokers to switch to e-cigarettes, including through government media campaigns.

High taxes on cigarettes, but low taxes on e-cigarettes. More warnings on cigarette packs about the dangers of smoking, but clearer information that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than smoking. Media campaigns to encourage smokers to switch to vejping.

This is some of the advice from the Royal College of Physicians, which represents over 40 000 doctors in the UK. They are now calling on the country's politicians and authorities to take a clearer stance, with their latest report "Smoking and Health - 2021 - a coming of age in tobacco control?".

"Smoking beats Covid-19 in terms of deaths in the UK in 2020. 94,000 died from smoking-related diseases. These deaths are unnecessary and policymakers can do much more to prevent them," the RCP said in its report.

Campaigns for e-cigarettes

The UK government's ambition is to reduce the smoking rate in the UK to less than five per cent by 2030, down from 14 per cent today. But reaching that goal requires more powerful measures than those currently in place, according to the British Medical Association. In addition to tougher restrictions on smoking tobacco, the organisation wants to make it easier for smokers to switch nicotine sources.

"We recommend media campaigns that support the use of electronic cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool. At the same time, we need to clarify the message that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than cigarettes, that they are safe and effective smoking cessation tools. There is a widespread misconception about the harmfulness of e-cigarettes among smokers today," writes the British Medical Association.

To make the message clear, the association proposes that e-juice and other packaging for e-cigarettes should be labelled with texts indicating the relatively lower risk of vejping compared to smoking.

Significantly lower risk

The British Medical Association has previously stated, in a high-profile 2016 report, that vejping is 95 per cent less harmful than smoking. A figure that is controversial but still widely accepted among health scientists and medical institutions in the UK. At the same time, the association argues that e-cigarettes should continue to be heavily regulated. 

"E-cigarettes should attract smokers, but not non-smokers. Young people should be protected through restrictive marketing rules and an increased age limit, from 18 to 21. The proportion of non-smoking young people who use e-cigarettes regularly is low today, but this is something that needs to be monitored continuously," the association writes.

Smoking ban should not apply vejpning

According to the RCP, it is important to distinguish between different types of nicotine products, not only in terms of harm but also in terms of policy decisions. Such as smoking bans.

"Being able to use tobacco-free nicotine products, including e-cigarettes, in places where smoking is prohibited is an important step in keeping ex-smokers smoke-free," the organisation writes. "Therefore, smoking bans should not automatically include e-cigarette use."

Higher risk of relapse in smoking rooms

According to the RCP, prohibition of vejpning should be possible, but it should always be up to local managers to make that judgement on a case-by-case basis.

"Vaping can be a nuisance, but often bans are based on misunderstandings about the risks of vapour, which must be assessed as small to negligible. However, vapers who have switched from cigarettes risk relapsing into smoking if they are always forced to be in smoky environments, such as smoking rooms, to use their e-cigarette," the association writes.

No need to comply with EU laws anymore

The RCP report comes as the UK leaves the EU and no longer has to comply with the European Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). This has opened the door to less restrictive legislation on e-cigarettes and is an issue that is currently under investigation in the British Parliament.

In Sweden, Member of Parliament David Josefsson (m) has recently addressed the British Medical Association's report in a Question to Minister for Social Affairs Lena Hallengren.

Facts: E-cigarettes in England

Facts: Royal College Of Physicians

  • British Medical Association was early to warn of the harms of cigarette smoking. In 1962 the organisation released the first report in the series "Smoking and Health". 
  • The report linked, for the first time, smoking to lung cancer, cardiovascular disease and other respiratory damage. 
  • The report was met with disbelief by politicians and smokers alike. 50 years later, it turns out that the organisation's analysis was right. The damage caused by smoking has cost millions of lives. 
  • The Royal College of Physicians has been a major influence on tobacco control and policy in the UK for much of the 21st century. 
  • The organisation represents 40,000 doctors in the country. 
  • In the report "Nicotine without smoke" the Royal College of Physisicans states that the risk of harm from nicotine use is less than 5 per cent of the risk from tobacco smoking. The Association's statement is the basis for the UK Public Health Agency's position and message that "e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes".

Sources for this article:
Press release: A coming of age for tobacco control?
The report (download pdf): Smoking and health 2021: A coming of age for tobacco control?

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