UK MPs Gather More Evidence On Impact of Vaping and Heat Not Burn Products On the UK’s Health
The final sitting of the Science and Technology Committee inquiry into e-cigarettes was it’s fair to say a bit of an anti climax with those experts giving evidence pretty much going over old ground.
In fact the whole two hour session had a bit of an ‘end of term‘ feel to it with lots of in jokes and a cameo appearance from health minister Steve Brine MP.
He seemed to be playing to the gallery and fellow MPs giving an almost stereotypical parody of a Government minister – think a performance akin to a hammed up Yes Minister extra.
Gillian Leng – the Deputy Chief Executive of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – NICE – was very nice indeed and seemed to gush and giggle her way through the proceedings.
Though she did manage to give the bored national reporters their anti-e-cigarette angle and headline – more on that in a moment.
I’ve watched it a couple of times now and dare I say unlike the previous three sessions – this one had me bored out of my skull – tedious and to be honest after 4 hours of viewing I’m still kind of unclear if indeed anything newsworthy was said lol.
However cutting through the turgid dross [harsh me naw] the star was Professor John Newton from Public Health England who seems to be a bit of a champion of vaping as a harm reduction tool and did take more than a few shots at the safety aspect of Heat Not Burn products.
Unlike Steve Brine MP who bemoaned the fact the wider public and health professionals didn’t see him as an e-cigarette ‘cheerleader‘ – the mind boggles.
Anyway excuse my unusual downer on the proceedings and I’ll try hard to pick out any interesting bits and there were some if you dig deep enough!
OK the first session took evidence from:
- Rob Morrison, Senior Regulatory Policy Executive, Advertising Standards Authority
- Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement, Public Health England
- Professor Gillian Leng, Deputy Chief Executive, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
- Dr Ian Hudson, Chief Executive, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency
Whilst the second and final session featured:
- Steve Brine MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care
- Dr Tim Baxter, Deputy Director of Healthy Behaviours, Department of Health and Social Care
You can watch the full debate below:
Best Evidence Is Vaping Is 95% Safer Than Smoking
Rob Morrison from the Advertising Standards Authority confirmed his organization was currently looking at possibly lifting the current rules around advertising the health benefits of e-cigarettes and a full report on that is due sometime down the road.
Professor John Newton said Public Health England was supportive of e-cigarettes and was concerned at the current plateau of smokers taking up vaping and even more concerned at the public’s misconception that vaping was as if not more dangerous to health than smoking.
On the matter of where the ‘vaping is 95% safer than smoking’ claim came from he said that was down to the ‘best evidence available‘ and added:
We are trying to convey the extent that e-cigarettes are likely to be much less harmful than smoking cigarettes.
E-Cigarettes Are An ‘Edgy Lifestyle Choice’
As I said earlier Professor Gillian Leng and despite NICE recently stating e-cigarettes were CONSIDERABLY safer than smoking put a bit of a downer on that warning saying there was a concern vaping was becoming a ‘lifestyle option‘ – something of course the mainstream media used.
I think that is the distinction between using e-cigarettes as a quitting aid, which you clearly can do.
The question is whether it becomes a long-term lifestyle choice.
They are being marketed as an interesting, exciting, edgy product that might encourage people to use them in the longer term.
The risk is that we don’t know what the long-term impact of using e-cigarettes is because they are new products and we really need to gather that information.
Professor Newton picked up on that later adding:
The large scale surveys suggest that there is a progression from being a smoker, to using e-cigarettes, to stopping.
A little later on he said there was a need to:
…remove barriers to smokers using e-cigarettes to quit and that’s likely to save more lives than banning them completely.
Vapers have a powerful ally in Public Health England.
What Are The Risks Of Long Term Addiction To Nicotine?
A great question from committee chairman Norman Lamb MP that had Professor Leng in particular struggling to justify being concerned about long term use of e-cigs given she believes they are ‘considerably safer‘ than smoking.
After once again banging on about edginess and lifestyle choice Norman Lamb interrupted her with this superb question:
Is there a problem with it [vaping] being a long term lifestyle choice if it doesn’t have any health consequences then that’s for the individual isn’t it..?
Professor Leng agreed it was up to the individual adding that they didn’t know what the long term risk of being addicted to nicotine was though accepted many vapers do drop their nicotine levels on their vaping journey adding:
We know they are 95% safer than cigarettes but there’s 5% we don’t know about.
Hands up those of us who began in double figures and are now on 3mg nicotine or less!
The voice of reason once again from Professor John Newton who said long term survey showed there was currently 2.9million vapers and 700,000 had stopped both smoking and using e-cigarettes adding there is evidence that nicotine within e-cigarettes is probably LESS addictive than in smoking.
Like I said this guy talks sense!
Is The Safer Message Getting Lost?
Committee member Stephen Metcalfe MP suggested the public’s misconceptions around the safety of vaping could be down to the caveats that experts seem to put on e-cigarettes.
Such as the regular use of – they are safer but…insert cautionary point here.
It’s a good question because as we all know the mainstream media in particular tends to hook onto the ‘but‘ aspects of any expert opinion around vaping.
Once again it was Professor Newton who made it very clear that whilst caution was important he believes that:
There is NO DOUBT that using an e-cigarette regularly is much less harmful than cigarettes and it’s important to get that message across – particularly to smokers.
As if to prove the message that vaping IS safer continually getting lost point – I refer you to the mainstream media coverage of this session and the angle they’ve taken *sighs*.
Heat Not Burn Products
Anyone who read the weekend papers will see that our old ‘friends‘ Phillip Morris Inc were shall we say ‘at it‘ with the news they’d sent a ton of posters advertising their iQOS product to shops up and down the country.
Given this is a tobacco product and therefore should NOT be advertised this will be something that both Trading Standards and indeed ASA will be taking a close look at.
A case of “Rules what rules we’re PMI” lol…
Anyway enough of my ongoing burning bitchiness…
As to the claim HNB products are healthier than smoking once again Professor Newton made it clear:
I think we need to be VERY CAUTIOUS about heat not burn products they contain tobacco and we just don’t have very much evidence.
There is a committee on toxicology report suggesting there may be RESIDUAL HARM from heat not burn so I think we need to remain cautious.
You can’t be clearer than that and hey if they are proven to be considerably/substantially safer than smoking I will not only wear a snap back cap *shudders* – I’ll eat one…
Professor Leng wasn’t sure how harmful HNB products might be but agrees they were certainly more harmful than e-cigarettes.
Final Points From Session One
Rob Morrison from the Advertising Standards Authority had a long discourse about the position on the advertising of e-cigarettes.
Dare I say it might have been his manner but to be honest my brain pretty much switched off – if this is an area that interests you then checkout the recording of the session above…
I could put something in here about his voice being a cure for insomnia – but I wont…Zzzzzzzzzzz…
There was some discussion around the possible medicalizing of e-cigarettes but as none have come to market yet it was all theoretical as to if they should or could be put on prescription.
Short fill e-liquids were once again mentioned as ‘concern’ however the panel generally took a ‘wait and see’ approach to them.
However Dr Ian Hudson the Chief Executive of the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency [MHRA] said they were taking a close look at current trends in the short fill market – watch this space!
Health Minister Steve Brine Wraps Up The Inquiry
I’m sorry but I couldn’t get past Brine’s performance in this session.
As I said earlier he came across as the almost comedic stereotypical minister with lots of eyes over his glasses and dare I say smugness.
As to Dr Tim Baxter the Deputy Director of Healthy Behaviours at the Department of Health and Social Care – he played a very minor supporting role to the minister – a bit of a wasted journey maybe?
Anyway and to not prolong the agony of session two here’s the quote from Mr Brine that made the headlines:
I get criticized for not being a cheerleader for e-cigarettes. I do not think it is my job to be a cheerleader for a sector of industry necessarily.
I think that our pragmatic evidence base, keeping it constantly under review, puts us in rather a sensible middle.
Let’s hope after these four sessions the Science and Technology Committee’s recommendations to the UK Government on all things e-cigarettes will indeed see him becoming if not a cheerleader for vaping at least a champion by proxy.
So What Happens Next?
You can read my coverage of the previous three sessions:
- UK MPs Quiz Experts On Vaping In Pregnancy – E-Cigs In Prisons – Mental Health Issues – Young People And Vaping and Heat Not Burn Products
- Big Tobacco Tells UK MPs Short Fills Are A Health Concern
- Experts Lecture UK MPs On The Positive Benefits Of E-Cigarettes
So the committee has a mountain of evidence to sift through with it’s fair to say much of it positive towards vaping – despite Big Tobacco’s anti-vape input in the last session 😉
They will then prepare a report filled with recommendations that the Government can act on if they so desire.
Incidentally the government will need to respond to the report within 60 days of its publication though under some circumstances it can be extended – Brexit may throw a spanner in the works.
Obviously Brexit is one big hurdle in the way as like it or not the legislation surrounding vaping in the UK is tied inextricably to the EU’s position and of course the TPD.
It’s certainly been an interesting set of evidence gathering sessions with the majority of the committee seemingly supportive of the health impact vaping has had on the state of the nation’s health.
Let’s hope if that is indeed the case the Government will act and rid us of these ridiculous European rules.
As always watch this space for any updates.