While e-cigarettes are not risk free, and for smokers quitting altogether remains the best way to improve health, I do welcome evidence which indicates that they are considerably less harmful to health than cigarettes. Moreover, I recognise the important part which e-cigarettes can play in helping smokers to quit. Some of the highest success rates of those trying to stop smoking are among people using an e-cigarette, alongside local Stop Smoking services, with up to 68 per cent successfully quitting in 2020/21.
International peer-reviewed evidence indicates that the risk to the health of bystanders from e-cigarette vapour is low and is insufficient to justify the prohibition of e-cigarettes. The ban on smoking in enclosed public places is based on strong evidence of harm from exposure to second-hand smoke, and the health benefits of preventing that exposure. Given that no evidence of comparable harm from exposure or benefit from protection exists in relation to exposure to e-cigarettes, they are not covered by this same legislation.
As you may be aware, the UK’s regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), updated its guidance on licensing e-cigarettes and other inhaled nicotine-containing products. This sets out the steps a manufacturer would need to follow to receive a license for their product, including quality, safety and efficacy standards. Manufacturers can now approach the MHRA to submit their products to go through the same regulatory approvals process as other medicines available, paving the way for a product to be available on prescription. The Government has committed to updating Parliament when a licensed product is closer to becoming a reality and I will be following developments closely.
However, I note the concerns raised have about the World Health Organisation’s comments on vaping. I am told that the Government will use the opportunity of the virtual Ninth WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Conference to speak about the UK’s progress on the implementation of tobacco control policies. This will include, where relevant, the important role that nicotine replacement therapy and e-cigarettes can play in supporting smokers to quit.
You may also be interested to learn that the Government is currently carrying out a consultation to review the effectiveness of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016, which regulates tobacco and e-cigarettes in the UK. I understand that feedback is being analysed and a response will be published in due course, which I look forward to reading.
I know that the Government is closely monitoring youth vaping, and will take action, if necessary, to ensure that use among children and young people does not increase, and that e-cigarettes do not become a gateway to tobacco use. Public Health England’s (now Office for Health Improvement and Disparities) most recent e-cigarette evidence review published in February 2019 indicates regular youth use of electronic cigarettes remains low, but I agree that we must monitor this closely to ensure that this situation does not change.
Finally, I completely appreciate that the use of e-cigarettes in public places can be a nuisance. That is why I am glad that guidance has been produced for employers and organisations looking to introduce policies around e-cigarettes and vaping in public. This guidance stipulates a number of considerations which it recommends be taken into account by employers and organisations when forming their policy on e-cigarettes. These include the fact that vaping can be a nuisance or distraction for people nearby, and that people with asthma and other respiratory conditions can be sensitive to a range of environmental irritants such as e-cigarette vapour.