UK Aims To Slash Smoking Rates By Allowing Vaping In Public, Workplaces

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

The government in England endorsed electronic cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking, advocating against vaping bans in offices and public spaces.

The United Kingdom’s Department of Health released a policy paper on e-cigarettes Tuesday, backing the devices as a useful tool to quit smoking and eliminate second hand risks to the public. The department’s Five Year Tobacco Control plan aims to significantly slash the smoking rate in Britain and argues maximizing public access to vaping will help achieve this goal, reports The Register.

The department also notes Brexit presents lawmakers with a chance to re-examine their stance on the issue and “identify where we can sensibly deregulate without harming public health.” Health officials in the country hope greater access to e-cigarettes can bring the smoking rate down from 15.5 percent to 12 percent by the end of 2022.

“This is probably the first significant government policy paper anywhere that recognizes and pursues the opportunities of tobacco harm reduction, rather than defining these technologies as a threat to be suppressed,” Clive Bates, former director of Action on Smoking and Health, wrote Tuesday on The Counterfactual. “The focus on smoking, rather than on nicotine use or other goals is appropriate from a public health perspective, because it is the smoke that causes the harm.”

The report states the government wants to “minimize the risk of harm” to the smoker and those around them by “maximizing the availability of safer alternatives to smoking.”

The report also advocates against blanket bans on vaping or laws that lump e-cigarettes into the same category as smoking. It states vaping should not be included in any government policy concerning “smoke-free” workplaces and encourage employers to rely on evidence-based arguments if they decide to implement their own company ban on the devices.

The government will also encourage localities to differentiate between the levels of harm caused by cigarettes compared to electronic devices in their smoke-free policies.

The report echoes sentiments from the the Royal College of Physicians in England, which stated last year that using e-cigarettes eliminates most of the harms attributed to smoking. They also recommend vaping to patients trying to quit traditional tobacco products.

A study commissioned by the European Union in 2014 found roughly six million European smokers had quit cigarettes by using vaping devices.

Proponents of vaping argue critics are ignoring the positive impact the devices are having on current smokers. Public health officials in the U.S. focused on harm reduction argue policymakers could learn a lot from the British approach to tobacco addiction.

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Steve Birr

Vice Reporter

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