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Beware anti-smoking campaigners and their siren pro-vaping voices

Above: Forest supports choice for smokers and vapers

Prompted by new research published this week I’ve been doing a bit of reading.

On Monday ASH unveiled the results of its latest YouGov survey. As I wrote here it got very little coverage but we shouldn’t dismiss it because ministers and civil servants will no doubt be devouring the data to see how far they dare push further anti-tobacco measures.

(On Wednesday, on BBC Radio Sussex, ASH’s Vicky Salt took issue with my claim that ASH want to ban smoking in all private vehicles. Not so, said Vicky. That is not “currently” ASH’s policy. Maybe not but it won’t be long before it is. That’s how ASH works - by stealth.)

On Tuesday, meanwhile, in collaboration with Public Health England, the Office for National Statistics published its latest report, ‘Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2018’.

This is the report that found that the number of smokers continues to fall across England while the number of smokers switching to vaping continues to rise, albeit at a fairly modest rate.

What concerns me though is the role of PHE in this partnership because I’ve always considered the ONS to hold itself to higher, more impartial, standards than bodies like PHE.

I was particularly interested to read a comment by Martin Dockrell, formerly with ASH and now head of PHE’s tobacco control programme.

“Vaping,” he said, “remains the most popular way for smokers to quit.”

Not true, Martin. A recent study found willpower (55%) is the most popular way to quit smoking.

Vaping came second (16%) followed by nicotine patches (8%) and gum (6%). (You can read the full results on the YouGov website.)

As readers know I’m not anti-vaping - far from it - but let’s not play fast and loose with the facts.

Then again, it doesn’t surprise me that tobacco control campaigners prefer to ignore the important role willpower plays in smoking cessation.

After all, their whole careers are built on the premise that smoking is a such a difficult habit to break we need an entire industry to ‘help’ people quit.

Well, it turns out that most smokers prefer to give up using willpower, not smoking cessation services or reduced risk products or Allan Carr’s Easyway books.

In other words, smoking cessation tends to lie in the hands of the individual not government or the anti-smoking industry and tobacco control campaigners find that very hard to accept.

Willpower, like personal responsibility and freedom of choice, is anathema to them.

Vaping of course was supposed to take smoking cessation out of the hands of anti-smoking campaigners by empowering smokers who want to quit with the ability to do so on their own terms.

But that’s not how it’s turning out. Increasingly tobacco control campaigners are taking ownership of e-cigarettes and they’re doing it in a number of ways.

One, they are arguing (successfully) that e-cigarettes must be a quit smoking device not a recreational product in its own right.

Two, some want e-cigarettes prescribed on the NHS as a smoking cessation aid, like nicotine patches and gum.

Three, most are happy for e-cigarettes to be strictly regulated, even by the EU's Tobacco Products Directive.

Four, anti-smoking vaping advocates (not vapers) are increasingly dominating the media when it comes to commenting on reduced risk products.

Five - and this is most damning - tobacco control campaigners like ASH rarely if ever fight restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes at work or in indoor public places.

Vaping, as far as they’re concerned, is simply a way to ‘help’ smokers quit, nothing more. The longer term goal is to wean consumers off their nicotine ‘addiction’ and stop non-smokers from taking up the habit.

To achieve that vaping must be controlled.

The remarkable thing is, some vaping groups seem happy to buy in to this. They’re so thrilled to be invited to ‘engage’ with PHE and other anti-smoking bodies they appear blind to the fact that they are being neutered to the point where they are fast becoming bystanders, not activists, in the public debate.

The vaping industry is represented by the UKVIA but who represents the consumer? Sure, there are pro-vaping voices in the media but very few of them are vapers.

Sometimes Forest is invited to comment but most of the pro vaping voices are tobacco control campaigners who have become vaping advocates in order to pursue their relentless war on tobacco.

I suspect many vaping activists are not unhappy with that. Oh look, they think, isn’t it great we’ve got public health on our side. That’s got to be good, right?

Perhaps, but be careful what you wish for. A week or so ago ASH tweeted:

Have you #quitsmoking by taking up #vaping? Are you comfortable sharing your experience on TV tonight? We’d love to talk to you, get in touch! Please email

From tobacco control to vaping control is a very small step and I believe we are seeing the latest move in that direction.

For years ASH has claimed to be on the side of smokers. Most smokers want to quit, they bleat, we’re only here to help.

Imagine if Forest didn’t exist and ASH had the media to themselves. The message would be clear and one-sided.

‘It’s a myth that people enjoy smoking and don’t want to quit. Listen to all these smokers we’ve co-opted to spread the word. They’ll tell you.’

By allowing ASH to fill a media vacuum, vaping bodies are handing control of the vaping debate to opponents of choice and personal responsibility.

It will come back to haunt vapers, I’m sure, because choice and personal responsibility are anathema to tobacco control campaigners, even those who currently (remember that word?) advocate the use of e-cigarettes.

Meanwhile another important message is getting lost.

Smokers are not patients and e-cigarettes are not a medicinal smoking cessation aid. For some people they offer a genuinely pleasurable alternative to smoking.

That’s why I couldn’t join in the applause when Sainsbury’s announced they were relocating e-cigarettes from behind the counter to the shop floor close to the ‘heathcare’ aisle and next to smoking cessation products.

I’m sorry, but if vaping is to have a long-term future, reduced risk products like e-cigarettes should be given similar status to alcohol and caffeine products. They must be recognised as a recreational, not a healthcare, product.

Vaping bodies fought hard to prevent e-cigarettes being licensed as a medicinal device yet e-cigarettes are now being sold alongside nicotine patches and gum.

What next? Will the sale of e-cigarettes eventually be restricted to pharmacies like Boots?

Anyway, my basic point is this.

Increasingly e-cigarettes are being appropriated by public heath and anti-smoking campaigners with barely a murmur from vapers and if they continue to allow that to happen there is only one way it will end.


Update: Talking of PHE's Martin Dockrell, here's a post I wrote about him in 2014.

Dockrell recently 'liked' a tweet that described me as a 'smug apologist for deadly cigarettes'.

I can't imagine anyone working for the Office for National Statistics doing that but it's interesting to see his prejudices confirmed online.

Stay classy, Martin!

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Reader Comments (1)

A very well written post and one that strikes a chord with vapers like me who believe in free choice.
I've long been aghast with those vaping advocates who believe ASH and other such groups have got their backs. They haven't and their hostile attitude towards snus and heated tobacco products as well their silence when NHS trusts, pub chains and others conflate vaping with smoking in their policies (surely this is self defeating from their perspective) should be warning enough of what they really think.
A smoke free world is not their ambition, a (recreational) nicotine free one is.

Friday, July 5, 2019 at 14:05 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew O'Dowd

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