UK Study Calls For Closer Links Between NHS Smoking Cessation Services and Vape Shops
A new study funded by Cancer Research UK and conducted by researchers at the University of East Anglia suggest local bricks and mortar vape shops should team up with the NHS to help smokers quit.
The team centered their research around a simple question:
…what role does the vape shop environment have in supporting smoking abstinence?
To answer that observers were placed in vape shops in London and East Anglia where they gathered data on the interaction between staff and customers and buying habits.
The final report used evidence from 40 vape shop customers aged between 21 and 70 and the team say the findings suggest:
Vape shops offer an important ‘expert by experience’ role in supporting smokers to quit.
Different shops may appeal to different groups of smokers and vapers, and may encourage those who do not intend to quit smoking eventually to go on to quit.
For many, vape shops are an easy to access, non-medicalised source of advice and support.
This is something I’ve called for a couple of times notably in the piece Smokers Turning Their Backs On NHS Stop Smoking Clinics.
However I’ll talk about my thoughts on the subject later.
OK so let’s look at this report in a little more detail and see what new and established vapers and of course the shop staff themselves have to say.
Vape Shops Can Be Intimidating To Some People
The researchers say women in particular can be a little intimidated by vape shops as they in general exude an air of being “largely masculine territories.”
The study likens your average vape shop decor as “hard colours and metal finishes” with all the vape shops sampled bar one having all male staff.
One research observer noted:
…at this point the shop feels very much like a traditional pub with men joking and discussing hardware and vaping.
This is again something I mentioned in the article A Visit To The Vape Shop…Beginners Guide…
I pointed out in that piece that of the 3 [now two sadly] specialist vape shops in my smallish town centre 2 of them could be a little intimidating to older folk and I guess women.
This is backed up by the research where F38 [female 38-years-old] told researchers:
I still find [shops] a little bit intimidating because [the shop] I go to they also sell like all the heavily modded tanks and batteries and stuff like that, so they are still a little bit kind of ‘boys clubby’ to me […]. It’s blokes with their massive batteries and stuff like that, so I just kind of go in and go “right I want that liquid in that strength” and kind of take my leave.
I must admit I can see her point as to what the answer to that is I have no idea – I’m not here to tell anyone how to run the perfect vape shop business model.
However this feeling of ‘intimidation’ is something vape shop owners should be aware of – how they address it is up to them.
High Street Vape Shops Normalizing Vaping
There’s currently around 2000 bricks and mortar vape shops dotted about the UK with many in prominent positions in town centres.
This in particular to the smokers thinking of quitting makes e-cigarettes appear:
…socially acceptable and low risk to health, prompting them to try e-cigarettes.
This has to be a good thing – but as I said in the Vape Shop Visit article – more shops need to stock a range of starter kits not only to make that sale – but to give smokers a choice should they wish to quit via e-cigarettes.
What I mean by that is 99.999999999999% of us are here and vaping because we quit smoking and in the UK alone there’s 3million of us – however there’s 7.5million smokers so we have a way to go yet!
It naturally follows that vape shops should be putting starter kits and higher level nicotine e-liquids high on their stock lists with staff having at least a basic fundamental knowledge of the best set-up and juice for the absolute vaping beginner.
To Much Regulation?
The study points out the onset of the TPD/TRPR brought “commercial challenges to the shops” with some reporting they still had thousands of pounds worth of non-compliant vape stock left they were unable to sell.
Those interviewed also pointed out the ridiculousness of the nicotine warning labels on hardware however in some cases vape shop staff had been themselves intimidated by customers angry at the new laws:
Shop staff, who had to explain the legislation to customers, felt it was confusing them and in some instances had resulted in hostility from angry customers upset that non-compliant products were no longer available.
The research showed there’s still confusion among shop staff and owners as to what is legal and ‘illegal’ to sell with many high street shops deciding NOT to sell RDAs [Drippers] for fear of contravening the greyer areas of the law.
The Health Aspects Of A Vape Shops
The main thrust of this study looks at what role your typical vape shop should have in smoking cessation.
Those interviewed felt that:
Traditional smoking cessation support was not perceived as the main role of the shops by either staff or vapers.
Note the word ‘traditional’.
As we’ve already established ‘traditional’ stop smoking services whilst believed to be the best way to quit along side e-cigarettes – are seeing the numbers of users and indeed accessibility to them drop significantly.
The study suggests there’s already a ‘loose’ link between health officials and vape shops with one reporting close liaison with the town’s GP whilst another said the local smoking cessation worker often visited the shop to chat and find out more about the latest vape kits and devices.
What is interesting is that of those vapers quizzed pretty much all of them wanted to see the NHS promote e-cigarettes widely with more information given to GPs and e-cigarettes being made available on prescription.
As I’ve said many times – I’m personally not that convinced e-cigarettes should become ‘medicalized’ and certainly not given out ‘willy-nilly’ on prescription – and I will explain why in greater detail very soon – something else I keep saying lol.
The Study’s Recommendations Welcomed By The Vape Industry
The study shows that in the majority of vape shops here in the UK the staff are knowledgeable and willing to take the time to help newcomers to vaping and this has to be welcomed.
And given recent reports show vaping as the fastest growing industry in the UK with this little island being the second largest vape market in the world next to America – it’s only going to get bigger and with that will come the inevitable ‘scrutiny’.
The Independent British Vape Trade Association [IBVTA] – says the study is great news for the blossoming industry adding:
Unlike traditional cessation methods, vaping is empowering. It represents a market-based, user driven, public health insurgency.
Increasingly smokers are turning away from state provided solutions and going to independent vape shops in the private sector when they want to stop smoking.
No taxpayers money has been spent, yet smokers are stopping, switching and cutting down through the use of vape products.
Reputable, ethical vape shops remain the best place for smokers to get advice about switching from smoking to vaping.
Employees are able to walk smokers through the variety of devices and e-liquids available to them, and recommend the product set best suited to their needs.
As to the role of vape shop staff they make no bones about how crucial they are to smoking cessation here in the UK and quote Professor Riccardo Polosa who says:
A very good vape shop employee can be better than a trained smoking cessation counsellor.
Wise words again from one of the best qualified champions of vaping around.
YouTube vape reviewer Steve Nicholls who has recently opened a vape shop – S.N Vaping in Station Lane – Hornchurch – Essex also welcomed the study:
I think it’s a brilliant idea as it said In the article we can offer support and advice throughout the Vaping journey.
Not just a starter kit bunged in the post.
We can tailor the vape to the person and let them try over 150 flavours before they make a decision.
As long as the NHS prescribe a decent starter kit half the battle is won.
Judging from the comments above there really does seem to be a split between those who welcome the creep of e-cigarette ‘medicalisation’ and those who don’t.
It’s certainly a topic that no doubt will be debated up and down the vaping world for some time to come!
It’s a decent bit of research that gives a vote of confidence to the role vape shops are playing and indeed even from this small snippet we can see that in general vape shop staff are knowledgeable and helpful.
In the past I’ve suggested vape staff should be given some form of informal/formal training – particularly on the basics of just what a smoker needs to make a successful quit attempt.
It’s not rocket science and doesn’t need to cost the earth and maybe a body such as IBVTA could produce a basic ‘worksheet/fact-sheet’ for staff to give them a very basic grounding.
The main problem I see is there could become a call to license vape shops if the NHS noses in and we have enough legislation and regulation without adding yet another and probably costly level.
Vape shops are first and foremost a business – no matter how knowledgeable or passionate the owner or staff are they are not funded by Government and the bottom line is indeed their bottom line.
So yes it would be great to see vape shops working closely with stop smoking cessation services – but not at the expense of their time and profits to prop up what is a floundering ‘traditional’ service.
Last word to the study which concludes:
…some vapers using e-cigarettes mainly for medicinal purposes and some female users found vape shops could be intimidating, and for some communities access to reputable vape shops may be more limited than in the areas where this research was carried out.
Future research could consider evaluating joint working between Stop Smoking Services and vape shops to help smokers achieve and maintain smoking cessation.
You can read the full study – which is far more readable than many scientific studies: A Qualitative Exploration of the Role of Vape Shop Environments in Supporting Smoking Abstinence
If you are a smoker looking to quit we have a ton of advice and informative articles the best e-liquids and starter kits for your specific needs including:
What are your thoughts on this study?
Should bricks and mortar vape shops work closely with the NHS?
Should e-cigarettes be made available on prescription?
How was your experience of a vape shop?
Do let us know in the comments below!
[vape shop photos courtesy of Steve Nichols of S.N Vaping – Hornchurch Essex]