GSTHR Press release
Friday 21 April 2023
Newly published GSTHR research shows significant rise in global number of vapers as UK Government cements support for vaping in smoking cessation
A week after the UK Government announced its Swap to Stop scheme, which will see one million smokers given a free vaping starter kit to help them quit smoking, the latest research from the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR) shows a significant rise in the global number of people who vape.
The new peer-reviewed paper published this week in Drugs, Habits and Social Policy estimates there are now 82 million vapers worldwide. The GSTHR project, from Knowledge•Action•Change (K•A•C), a UK public health agency, found that the total for 2021 represents a 20% increase on the figure for 2020 (68 million).
Vaping offers a significantly safer alternative for the 1 billion people around the world who continue to smoke. Each year, there are eight million smoking-related deaths worldwide. The growth in the number of vapers, most of whom will have swapped smoking for vaping, is therefore a hugely positive step in efforts to reduce the harms of combustible cigarettes and hasten the end of smoking.
In the UK, smoking prevalence has fallen to its lowest level on record – a public health win significantly aided by the Government’s acceptance of vaping as an effective cessation tool, and strong regulatory measures that protect consumer safety.
The UK’s support of vaping for tobacco harm reduction is in sharp contrast to the situation in many countries, however. GSTHR data shows that vapes are banned in 36 countries, and in a further 84 countries there is a regulatory and legislative vacuum. Millions of smokers who want to switch to much safer vaping cannot do so, or may be forced to purchase potentially unsafe products on black or grey markets, due to bans, or poor or non-existent product regulation.
The GSTHR research shows that despite restrictive regulations or bans in many countries, increasing numbers of people are choosing to switch to safer alternatives to combustible tobacco, and along with other countries like New Zealand, the UK offers strong evidence that positive government messaging about vaping for tobacco harm reduction can hasten reductions in smoking prevalence. But an international meeting on tobacco control later this year could jeopardise global progress on reducing smoking-related death and disease through tobacco harm reduction.
The World Health Organization (WHO) remains opposed to the use of safer nicotine products for smoking cessation, despite supporting harm reduction in other areas of public health such as substance use and HIV/AIDS prevention. This November, the 182 countries that are Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) will meet at the Tenth Conference of the Parties (COP10) in Panama City. Discussions about safer nicotine products are expected to take place at this meeting – and it is likely that the position of the World Health Organization will be influential.
Commenting on the research, one of the paper’s two authors, Professor Gerry Stimson, Director of K•A•C and Emeritus Professor at Imperial College London, said: “The updated Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction estimate suggests that there are now 82 million people worldwide who vape, proving that consumers find these products attractive. As evidenced in the UK, millions are making the switch from smoking. Safer nicotine products give the world’s 1 billion smokers the chance to quit using alternatives that pose significantly fewer risks to their health.
“Last week’s announcement of the ‘Swap to Stop’ scheme from the UK Government cements the country’s leading position in tobacco harm reduction. But the Government must now take this leadership onto the global stage, and advocate for tobacco harm reduction at the FCTC COP10 in Panama this November. Failure to do so will be counted in the many millions of lives that will continue to be lost each year to smoking.”
The updated calculation in the GSTHR paper, written by Professor Stimson and GSTHR Data Scientist Tomasz Jerzyński, was made possible by the release of a range of new data including the 2021 Eurobarometer 506 survey. The figure of 82 million vapers is based on 49 countries that have produced viable survey results on vaping prevalence.
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About us: Knowledge·Action·Change (K·A·C) promotes harm reduction as a key public health strategy grounded in human rights. The team has over forty years of experience of harm reduction work in drug use, HIV, smoking, sexual health, and prisons. K·A·C runs the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction (GSTHR) which maps the development of tobacco harm reduction and the use, availability and regulatory responses to safer nicotine products, as well as smoking prevalence and related mortality, in over 200 countries and regions around the world. For all publications and live data, visit https://gsthr.org.
Our funding: The GSTHR project is produced with the help of a grant from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, a US non profit 501(c)(3), independent global organization. The project and its outputs are, under the terms of the grant agreement, editorially independent of the Foundation.