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Harm reduction

Vaping as tobacco harm reduction

Unsplash Creative 0.0: Photo by E-Liquids UK

Commission’s cancer plan ignores not just the experience of hundreds of thousands of vapers throughout Europe...

The World Health Organization estimates there are 1.1 billion active tobacco smokers across the globe. For several decades, both governmental and non-governmental agencies have used various tools of public health to stem this tide, including education, taxes, age-restrictions, bans on advertising, and more, including promoting various patches, gums, and therapies to deliver nicotine in an alternative form less harmful to hopeful former smokers. Unfortunately, many of these alternatives have not proven to be entirely successful, especially when compared to the efficacy of vaping.

One of the more innovative approaches that have been shown to be effective is vaping, which reduces the harms posed by smoking by reducing or removing the combustion of tobacco altogether. This market-led revolution has produced innovations such as snus, a moist, smokeless tobacco left under the lip, heat-not-burn devices, and vaping devices, electronic cigarettes, or Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS). As a result of these alternatives, countries such as the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom are recording their lowest-ever levels of daily smokers. 

The landmark report on vaping’s potential to save lives was commissioned by Public Health England in 2015, providing evidence that vaping is 95% less harmful than combustible tobacco and has thus become a recommended means of quitting for smokers in the United Kingdom. Both Health Canada and New Zealand’s Ministry of Health also recommend vaping to smokers looking to quit.  A 2017 study from the University of California using U.S. Census data found that vaping had contributed to a “significant” increase in smoking cessation, and similarly recommends positive public health communications on vaping.

“Electronic cigarettes have an unparalleled potential to reduce the public-health impact of smoking, by allowing smokers to replace the habit and nicotine of smoking without the toxic effects of combustion." (Dr. Jed Rose, Director of the Duke Center for Smoking Cessation at Duke University Medical Center)

In short, innovation in vaping has achieved in a very short period of time what public health authorities have only hoped to accomplish in a far greater span: fewer people using combustible tobacco.

All of this evidence seems to be ignored by the EU Commission. The commission's proposal for Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan does not adequately consider tobacco and smoking-related cancers. The plan shuts the door for smokers trying to quit using novel tobacco products, specifically vaping by picking abstentionism over harm reduction. 

The Commission’s cancer plan has suggested taxing vaping in the same way as tobacco, banning vaping in public spaces and treating vaping products and vape flavours as the same as tobacco. This is a misguided and dangerous policy. 

Studies show that vapers are twice as likely to quit smoking permanently than those using nicotine patches or gums and there is scientific proof that vapers are exposed to 0.4% of the lifetime cancer risk of smokers. By making these devices less appealing to smokers, the Commission’s cancer plan ignores not just the experience of hundreds of thousands of vapers throughout Europe, but also scientific facts.

Consumers, who were able to quit smoking thanks to vaping, are very concerned about the development of vaping legislation at a European level. If the Commission’s current direction on vaping products is kept, it will lead to increased smoking rates and curb any progress that has been made towards a cancer-free society. This plan would also have regulatory knock-on effects around the world. Therefore, we urge MEPs to push back on the EU Commission's current version of the Plan, because it would have catastrophic consequences for public health. 

New research shows that better regulation of e-cigarettes could save the lives of almost 20 million people in the EU. Without vaping the fight against smoking induced cancer will fail. Therefore we need a clear commitment to the concept of harm reduction:
The goal is to reduce the adverse consequences among persons who continue to use unhealthy products. It was developed in response to the non successful “zero tolerance approach”. Instead of idealized goals it puts practical solutions center stage. Harm reduction has proved to be effective and is accepted in many countries. Moreover, the EU needs to encourage current smokers to switch to e-cigarettes, like the governments of the United Kingdom, France, Canada and New Zealand. Finally, access to vaping products for adults must be guaranteed: therefore it is essential that affordability and variety need to be ensured.

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