Updated: Jan 9
Public Health England (PHE) has defended its support of e-cigarettes, following five vaping-linked deaths in the US.
The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England both backed PHE’s position that vaping is safe if vapers use UK-licensed products. UK officials said vaping regulation in the UK is tighter than in the US, offering the public better protection.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also said vape liquid containing THC - the psychoactive agent in cannabis - could be to blame for the deaths and issued a warning against vaping illegal drugs. Symptoms of the mysterious condition are severe and include chest pain, shortness of breath and vomiting - with some people ending up in intensive care on a ventilator for several weeks.
So what does it mean for vapers in the UK?
Change Incorporated contacted Public Health England (PHE) which recommends vaping as 95 per cent less harmful than cigarettes, as well as the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England to get some clarity for the UK’s 3.2 million vapers.
PHE said it believed illegal drugs may have been a factor in the US deaths but said more information is needed and restated its support of vaping as a quit smoking tool. It stressed that UK vaping regulations are tougher than US regulations.
Martin Dockrell, Head of Tobacco Control at PHE, said: “A full investigation is not yet available but we’ve heard reports that most of these cases were linked to people using illicit vaping fluid bought on the streets or homemade, some containing cannabis products, like THC, or synthetic cannabinoids, like Spice.
“Unlike the US, all e-cigarette products in the UK are tightly regulated for quality and safety by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and they operate the Yellow Card Scheme, encouraging vapers to report any bad experiences.
“Our advice remains that e-cigarettes are a fraction of the risk of smoking, and using one makes it much more likely you’ll quit successfully than relying on willpower alone. But it’s important to use UK-regulated e-liquids and never risk vaping homemade or illicit e-liquids or adding substances, any of which could be harmful.”
We also contacted NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care and both backed PHE’s position. In the UK there is a ban on TV, print and broadcast advertising, and there is also a cap on nicotine content in e-cigarette products. But in the US there are different rules and regulations in different states. There is also no cap on nicotine content in the US and some states have legalised vaping pens with cannabis.
The vaping industry has also claimed the reporting of US deaths has been “sensational” and said it threatened to damage vaping as a harm reduction tool for smokers trying to quit cigarettes.
Louise Ross, the vice chair of the New Nicotine Alliance, said: “What we saw was a classic knee-jerk and sensational reaction in the media and some quarters of the medical profession.
“Something bad happens and they think it must be vaping. Officials have said THC appears to be a factor in the US death yet that appears to have been forgotten.
“Vaping is a key harm reduction tool yet we also still see many doctors blaming vaping for an ex-smokers’ chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which can often pre-date his or her vaping.”
The opinions on vaping still vary greatly worldwide. One example is the World Health Organisation which insists that vaping is harmful and should be strictly regulated, as is the case in the UK.
It said in July 2019 in a report on global smoking trends: “Although the specific level of risk associated with electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) has not yet been conclusively estimated, ENDS are undoubtedly harmful and should therefore be subject to regulation.”
It also said there was “insufficient evidence” to support claims of their effectiveness in assisting smokers trying to quit cigarettes.
Exerpt from Change Incorporated 9th Sept 2019 David Jarvis