Evidence lacking on e-cigs ban

As smoking bans become more widespread around the world smokers are looking for alternatives that will allow them to continue to get their nicotine fix unabated and many have found a solution in electronic cigarettes.

Here in Wales, as is the case elsewhere in the UK, they are currently allowed just about anywhere in public - even where tobacco smoking is banned.

However, the Welsh Government’s public health white paper consultation, published last month, includes plans that would see Wales become the first part of the UK to ban the use of electronic cigarettes in enclosed public places.

Ministers say they are responding to concern that the devices normalise smoking and undermine the smoking ban.

Personally, I am unconvinced by the arguments for a public ban on e-cigarettes and I fear this would be a huge step backwards for quitters.

There is a clear danger that forcing someone who is using e-cigarettes to kick their habit to go outside into a smoker's hut will put them in temptation's way and harm their health due to second-hand smoke exposure.

We should be giving people a helping hand to quit – not yanking them backwards. Anything that stigmatises those working hard to improve their health should be very carefully examined.

Dr Pat Riordan, director of the Health and Healthcare Improvement Division, which runs Stop Smoking Wales, agrees. He has said "The last thing we want to do is alienate smokers who are using e-cigs in good faith as a part of their attempt to cut down or quit smoking."

Public health guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence ‘Tobacco: harm-reduction approaches to smoking’ supports the use of licenced nicotine containing products to aid people in cutting down or quitting smoking.

And a recent BBC poll of nearly 1,000 people suggested most people supported the use of e-cigarettes in public places.

Professor John Britton, of the Royal College of Physicians has stated that if all the people in Britain who currently smoke traditional cigarettes switched to e-cigarettes, 5 million lives would be saved from smoking related deaths - a huge saving in not just unnecessary deaths but also many millions of pounds which would otherwise be spent on medical care and supporting a bereaved family.

Of course, quitting smoking would have the same effect, but it is clear that not every smoker could or would want to stop smoking.

A recent survey of more than 1,600 e-cigarette users found that 61% would return to tobacco if e-cigs were banned. With one person dying from smoking-related illness every 90 minutes in Wales and with smoking the biggest cause of avoidable ill health and early death in the UK, surely it is better for people to be using e-cigarettes than the real thing.     

E-cigarettes clearly work for 2.1million adults in the UK and the Welsh Government must bring forward the evidence behind their proposals to provide clarity on the justification for these proposals within the Public Health Bill.

People who choose to use e-cigarettes do so because they are trying to kick a very addictive and unhealthy habit. We should be supporting these people in their efforts as much as we can, not hindering them.