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Vaping in the United Kingdom has taken another leap forward after rules banning health claims in e-cigarette advertising were lifted. It comes after a year during which Britain essentially led the world in supporting and promoting e-cigarettes as a far healthier alternative to smoking, and at a time when governments around the world are desperately trying to roll back the enormous death toll from tobacco and go smoke-free.
We now know the real truth about tobacco, and how incredibly deadly it is. Smoking is the main cause of preventable deaths globally, Every year, around 7 million people die from directly smoking cigarettes and from secondhand smoke. The World Health Organization, which provides that figure, continues to ignore vaping as a viable smoking-cessation method — including again at a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, in October — and has been widely criticized for its position.
After an extensive consultation period with organisations and experts, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has changed its rules “so that health claims are no longer banned from ads for e-cigarettes”. Such claims will need to be backed up by research, however, and it’s still not open season for advertising vaping products, because they remain banned from being advertised in the mass media — on TV, in newspapers, and on radio. Change may also be in the works there, however, after a UK parliamentary committee recently recommended there be more freedom to advertise e-cigarettes.
Smoking out Vaping Health Claims
During its consultation period, the ASA asked 49 health organisations (the British Medical Association, Cancer Research UK, the Faculty of Public Health and others), vaping and tobacco firms (with Fontem Ventures, Japan Tobacco International and Philip Morris among them), groups (UK Vaping Industry Association, New Nicotine Alliance, the Freedom Association and more), universities, and private individuals what they thought of vaping.
In particular, they were asked if they agreed with a proposal to lift a ban on health claims for e-cigarettes, which are now widely and easily available from a good online vape store, while newcomers to vaping can use reviews to find what is the best e cig brand for them. Altogether, 11 reasons were submitted as to why the advertising restriction should be removed, and recent advice and studies from Public Health England and the prestigious Royal College of Physicians were used to demonstrate the chief arguments for allowing health claims on vaping products.
Earlier this year, Public Health England issued a renewed advisory on vaping, following initial advice on the matter in 2015. It said “vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking and switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys substantial health benefits” and that “e-cigarettes could be contributing to at least 20,000 successful new quits per year and possibly many more”. Two years ago, the Royal College of Physicians investigated e-cigarettes and “concluded that e-cigarettes are likely to be beneficial to UK public health. Smokers can therefore be reassured and encouraged to use them, and the public can be reassured that e-cigarettes are much safer than smoking.”
Vaping Benefit without Smoking
Respondents said it was important to note that e-cigarettes by themselves are not a health product in that using them might have significant health benefits. What they tried to make clear was that, based on the scientific and medical research to date, there appeared to be a “relative health benefit” compared to the harmful effects of smoking — and that there would be no health benefit if smokers kept on smoking while also vaping.
“The scientific evidence is sufficiently strong to permit generic health claims to be made by advertisers that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than smoked tobacco and that vaping is therefore significantly less harmful than smoking,” respondents said.
Organisations and bodies against a lifting of the advertising ban said what while current evidence suggested that vaping products were less harmful than cigarettes, they “have not
been in use for long enough to understand whether there are any long-term health implications of repeated or prolonged use.” This is despite the findings of a major study published in January, which followed e-cigarette users for two years found no adverse health impacts from long-term vaping.