Entries in 9 (1)

Thursday
May182017

Charlie, Cheeseman, Debrett's and me

As I mentioned yesterday I was booked to do a radio interview about vaping today.

I was told we were going to discuss the "rise of vaping" but we ended up talking about the new regulations that have been introduced as part of the revised Tobacco Products Directive (TPD2).

The key changes are:

  • Refillable tanks must have a capacity of no more than 2ml
  • E-liquids can not be sold in quantities greater than 10ml
  • Unless registered as a medicine e-liquids can not have a nicotine strength of more than 20mg/ml
  • E-liquid packaging must be child-resistant and tamper evident
  • Additives including colouring, caffeine and taurine are banned
  • All e-cigarettes and e-liquids must be registered with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency before they can be sold
  • Stricter labelling requirements including warnings about the addictiveness of nicotine

The discussion took place on BBC Radio Kent at 7.30 this morning and I was joined by Hazel Cheeseman of ASH.

The programme had earlier interviewed a local vape shop owner. An hour after us they also featured Charles Hamshaw-Thomas, representing the British Vaping Industry Association, and a young lady from Debrett's who, somewhat bizarrely in the circumstances, was asked to talk about the etiquette of vaping, a subject I discussed on BBC Radio Guernsey in March.

I know Charlie and I suspect he would have been a bit non-plussed to have his time eaten up by someone discussing the pros and cons of vaping at dinner parties. "This isn't what I signed up to," I can imagine him muttering.

Anyway, here's the transcript of the 'discussion' Hazel and I had. The total running time was eight minutes but I've edited it here and there where the meaning was not entirely clear or it was difficult to decipher exactly what was said.

Maggie Doyle: Presenter, BBC Radio Kent
Now from this weekend vaping shops and cafes in Kent face new restrictions on the strength and size of e-cigarettes they can sell. The group representing the industry claims smokers could find it harder to quit if they have to move on to lower strength vaping products. Well, on the line now is Hazel Cheeseman, the director of policy at ASH, a public health charity, and Simon Clark, director of the smoking group Forest. Good morning to you both.

Simon Clark:
Good morning.

Maggie Doyle:
First of all, Hazel, do you welcome these new restrictions, these new laws that are coming into place?

Hazel Cheeseman:
Yes, we welcome the broad range of regulations that are coming into place. There are controls around marketing and the products will have to be notified so we will know what the ingredients of products are. I think all of these are sensible measures to make sure that people can have confidence in the products and that we are protecting non-smokers and children from needlessly taking up a habit.

Maggie Doyle:
And ultimately where does ASH stand on vaping products? I mean, do you think they're a good idea?

Hazel Cheeseman:
Yes, certainly, if people are looking for something to move away from smoking then taking up vaping does appear to be a really successful step for many people. Our most recent data shows we've got three million, just short of three million, vapers in Great Britain and over half of those have completely quit smoking. So where smokers are able to completely stop smoking then there is a significant health benefit from moving on, from taking on and using electronic cigarettes.

Maggie Doyle:
And just as a note of interest. I suppose, then, if you have got three million vapers, how many millions of smokers have we got in the country? Do you have those figures to hand?

Hazel Cheeseman:
Yes, there are nine million smokers in Great Britain and three million people are using electronic cigarettes and about half of them have quit smoking and half of them are still smoking.

Maggie Doyle:
And the nine million smokers, are they smoking cigarettes?

Hazel Cheeseman:
Yes, smoking cigarettes and they are also vaping.

Maggie Doyle:
Oh, so they are also vaping as well. OK, fantastic. Simon Clark from Forest, what's your reaction to the restrictions on the e-cigarettes? It's a good idea or ...?

Simon Clark:
Well, like Hazel I agree with some of the regulations. There do need to be restrictions on marketing [but] I think some are over the top and are unnecessary at this stage. For example, restricting the maximum volume of e-liquids for sale. I think that's unnecessary. Also, restricting e-cigarettes tanks to no more than 2ml and restricting the nicotine strength of e-liquids ...

Maggie Doyle:
But they are not going to change by any huge amount. We had a vape business owner in here early on in the programme. He had some stuff with him that he brought in with from his shop. They are actually just going from 2.4 per cent down to two per cent levels of nicotine. So that’s not a huge amount, is it?

Simon Clark:
Well, I think the problem is you're given the impression, particularly with the warnings that are going to be put on e-cigarettes, that they are a serious health risk and clearly the evidence does not suggest that at all ...

Maggie Doyle:
And would you support a new generation of people starting to vape? In other words people who have never smoked, people who think it's cool or something. Would you support them taking up vaping?

Simon Clark:
Well, the evidence at the moment is that hardly any non-smokers are taking up vaping. The overwhelming majority of vapers are smokers or ex-smokers, but if people choose to take up vaping when they are 18 that's their individual choice. People must be allowed to make informed choices as to whether or not they choose to smoke tobacco or vape or drink alcohol. All these things are down to informed consumer choice.

John Warnett: Presenter
Simon, the warnings on the packets I have seen, it just says that nicotine is an addictive substance. That’s really just warning people that even though they are not taking in any other toxin that comes with cigarettes, nicotine is an addictive substance, and that's a fact, isn’t it?

Simon Clark:
Yes indeed but ...

John Warnett:
That’s the only warning.

Simon Clark:
Well, I know. The trouble is though it gives the impression that because nicotine is potentially addictive somehow that's a bad thing, but caffeine is also potentially addictive. There are lots of potentially ...

Maggie Doyle:
And there are no warnings, I suppose, on coffee cups?

Simon Clark:
Well the point is that nicotine itself is not harmful and if you put a warning [saying] nicotine is addictive then that gives the impression that the product itself is harmful and I think that's a very negative message to put out when these products are still in their infancy. If you want people to switch why would you put people off like that?

Maggie Doyle:
Let’s put that point to Hazel Cheeseman. What would you say to Simon's point there?

Hazel Cheeseman:
It's very interesting to be lectured about public health from Simon who is being funded by tobacco manufacturers and really only got interested in this subject since those companies have entered the market, but on the specific point around nicotine warnings I really don't think it's unreasonable for a product to say that nicotine is addictive. I mean, the addiction to nicotine has caused millions of deaths across the planet, you know, for the last many decades and while ...

Maggie Doyle:
But that’s because people were smoking nicotine in a cigarette which had tobacco in it.

Hazel Cheeseman:
Indeed, and although electronic cigarettes are a much safer alternative to smoking they are not completely risk free and ...

Maggie Doyle:
It sounds like you are suggesting that if you smoke, if you vape for life, you could also die from nicotine?

Hazel Cheeseman:
No, not that you would, no. I think the point that nicotine is relatively innocuous is a reasonable one. I mean, not completely risk free but relatively, but, you know, when you're using an electronic cigarette you're inhaling something into your lungs and if you're using it every day in a habitual way then the chances are that it may well do you some harm long-term. That harm would be an absolute fraction of the harm of smoking combustible cigarettes every day for the rest of their life so if your alternative is to use an electronic cigarette than electronic cigarettes are going to be much much better, but if we're talking about people who have never smoked, and young people, then I think it is reasonable to warn them that nicotine is addictive and if they use these products they could become addicted by using them long-term and that could be problematic.

Simon Clark:
And should we also have warnings on chocolate and coffee saying caffeine is potentially addictive and chocolate is potentially addictive? I mean, where will it go?

Maggie Doyle:
Good point. Hazel, what do you think of that?

Hazel Cheeseman:
I think what we're talking about here [is] inhaling something into a vulnerable organ [such] as your lungs. Also we do have these combustible products on the market which are lethal and and they do contain nicotine. So if people are establishing a nicotine addiction when they need not then that's not positive and I don't think it's unreasonable to inform people that nicotine is addictive. But there is an important message here, and it is difficult, but we want people to understand that electronic cigarettes are much much safer than ...

Simon Clark:
So how do these warnings help? These warnings won’t help at all.

Maggie Doyle:
Simon, would you ...?

Simon Clark:
We have got to remember that these regulations have actually come from the European Union. So one would hope that the new government, after we have left the European Union, would actually review these regulations.

Maggie Doyle:
So you don’t think that there should be a warning on them at all? You don’t think there should be a warning about nicotine being an addictive substance?

Simon Clark:
I don’t, personally. At this stage I think that we're in danger of putting people off ...

Maggie Doyle:
OK, we have to leave it there. We have run out of time. Simon Clark, director of the smoking group Forest, and also Hazel Cheeseman, the director of policy at ASH, a public health charity.

What made me laugh was Cheeseman's suggestion that Forest is a latecomer to this issue. In fact I first wrote about e-cigarettes in January 2010 and I've been commenting – and giving occasional interviews on the subject – ever since.

I won't get into a petty argument on that score but I will say this.

From the moment we became aware of e-cigarettes Forest has always supported the product because our guiding principle – the promotion of choice and personal responsibility – has never wavered.

Compare that to ASH whose support for e-cigarettes follows a dramatic and relatively recent change of heart.

Less than three years ago, for example, reviewing the first E-Cigarette Summit in November 2014, I wrote:

The only really sour note of the day came from Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, who tore into the tobacco companies with the help of selected quotes and an advertisement that were decades old.

It was fun however to watch her squabble with Clive Bates, her predecessor at ASH and now a leading advocate of e-cigs.

As soon as Clive finished his own presentation Deborah was on her feet pointing out that she, not he, was the current head of ASH. It's something she clearly feels prickly about.

I've had my differences with Clive but I've always respected him and he was impressive again on Tuesday.

He was the only key speaker who showed real passion for the product, and concern for the consumer – "Nothing meets the needs of all smokers", "These are real people", and so on.

E-cigarettes, he added, are "disruptive" to the tobacco industry but they are also disruptive to the public health industry because the product challenges their "anti-corporate bias" and their "model of tobacco control".

He was clearly enjoying himself.

In contrast to his ebullient performance there were times when Deborah seemed to be chewing on a wasp seasoned with lemon.

Her presentation included a tobacco advertisement featuring a good looking man and a beautiful woman. The man was holding a cigarette and the caption read, 'Blow in her face and she'll follow you anywhere'.

I'm not sure what response Deborah was hoping to get (a sharp intake of breath, perhaps, or shocked silence) but that line got one of the biggest laughs of the day.

If the E-Cigarette Summit was about the future someone really should have told Deborah. She and ASH are stuck in the past, fighting battles with the tobacco companies that are well past their sell-by date.

As for those pesky e-cigs, they are potentially highly addictive, she warned. Toxic too. And they could renormalise smoking.

She doesn't want to ban them but ASH want e-cigs advertised to smokers only. (How's that going to work?)

If there are any vapers reading this, don't be in any doubt – ASH are fair weather friends. Their current 'support' for e-cigarettes is purely tactical, a means to an end.

ASH has no interest in vaping as a recreational product. In their eyes e-cigarettes are a smoking cessation tool, nothing else.

As for the TPD regulations vaping organisations have been complaining about and want repealed after Britain has left the EU, ASH supports every single one of them, including the counter-productive warning about nicotine being addictive.

Commenting last week Deborah Arnott declared:

“The rapid growth in e-cigarette use has come to an end while over a third of smokers have still never tried e-cigarettes, saying the main reasons are concerns about the safety and addictiveness of e-cigarettes. It’s very important smokers realise that vaping is much, much less harmful than smoking.”

Has it never occurred to her that by banging on about the alleged addictiveness of nicotine some people will obviously leap to the conclusion that any form of nicotine inhalation is potentially dangerous.

When you then add the warning 'This product contains nicotine which is a highly addictive substance' to e-cigarette products (a regulation ASH supports) it's inevitable people will regard e-cigarettes in a far more negative light.

Meanwhile I have to listen to lectures from Arnott and ASH's director of policy who chides me for what she claims is Forest's belated interest!!

What. A. Joke.