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Last year’s vaping panic was quite a wild ride. Due to the scare regarding vaping-related lung injuries that were almost exclusively due to Vitamin E acetate found in contaminated black market THC vape cartridges, the US has been treating all things "vape" as an “epidemic” of sorts—something that must be contained and regulated. For more on this, check out our previous blog post HERE
The vaping episode of the documentary series Broken on Netflix has a segment that showed how the United Kingdom has tackled vaping differently from the United States. They took an opposite approach that has been proven to help people instead of hurt an industry.
Let’s dive into how the UK approached vaping not as a health hazard, but as a medical practice that is saving people from the dangers of cigarette addiction.
The biggest cause of preventable death in England is smoking, with around 4 million smokers nationwide and 96,000 deaths annually. However, in recent years, smoking has fallen to 14.4%, thanks to vaping.
While nicotine products are considered detrimental to health, the British have seen vaping as not only a lesser evil compared to conventional tobacco, but also a way to combat it as well. Of course, as with any new solution to an age-old problem, it wasn’t welcomed with open arms.
Many were skeptical at first with the idea of e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking, fearing that it would renormalize smoking and propagate nicotine addiction among young people. However, they soon changed their tune as the program took off and produced good results.
The UK has the National Health Service (NHS), which sets it apart from how healthcare is handled in the US. Whatever is relevant to healthcare in Britain goes through the NHS, which centralizes regulation and implementation of something like an anti-smoking program.
The UK vape market is also regulated, so minors can’t get a hold of vape products through mainstream channels. There is no teen vaping problem in the UK to speak of, so they’re doing something right, unlike in the US. Nicotine levels in eliquid are also restricted, being half of what can be procured in the US.
Meanwhile, Americans seem to have a propensity to turn health issues into moral crusades. The absence of universal healthcare exacerbates this problem, resulting in a lack of proper government-backed programs that could help smokers with quitting the habit.
Coupled with an unregulated vape market that paved the way to the proliferation of illicit vape products and widespread vape use among minors. The US government’s reactionary stance towards vaping has caused a panic among the public with the vape-related lung illnesses that cropped up in late 2019.
Prohibition of vaping may lead to more illicit products being consumed as vapers turn to underground markets for their needs. That’s what was seen in the leadup to the vape crisis of late 2019, wherein illegal THC cartridges were almost exclusively to blame for the resulting vape-related lung illnesses.
Despite that, reactionary prohibition was exactly what both state and federal governments in the US had in mind when vaping got the blame for those illnesses. Many states declared a ban on the sale of vape products, and President Trump expressed sentiment towards a nationwide ban.
The US vape industry has been hit hard by the impromptu bans, and it threatens legitimate users who got into vaping as an alternative to smoking. The resulting scarcity can push them to either return to smoking cigarettes or rely on illicit sources of vape products to get them by.
The UK approach is focused on the philosophy of harm reduction, which vaping has provided. Since vaping is proven to be safer than cigarettes, it’s apt as an alternative. It also gives users the option to control the amount of nicotine consumed through eliquid, thus letting them safely and thoughtfully taper down their nicotine levels until they get to zero.
This harm reduction policy has extended to even pregnant women. In this particular case, most would advise the woman to not smoke at all, but that would subject her to nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Vaping is on the table as an option for easing that process, as well as all the other nicotine substitutes like gum, patch, etc.
The NHS has now completely adopted a smoke-free policy that encourages smokers to switch to vaping or traditional nicotine replacement therapies. While it has yet to be universally accepted, members of the British Parliament are now calling for e-cigarettes to be prescribed for smokers in pharmacies.
Through the UK approach, Tobacco Control lead Martin Dockrell opts for the e-cigarette as the solution. If using one helps the patient stop smoking, then it’s much safer for her and the baby in the long run compared to the (high) chance of continued smoking.
There are anti-tobacco experts in the US who agree with the UK approach to vaping, seeing it as a more calm and pragmatic way of tackling the tobacco question. As it stands, the way the US government has been tackling
Matthew Myers agrees with the UK approach to vaping and sees the contrast between it and how the US is handling vaping as a lesson on how addressing it in a calm and pragmatic manner is best and the lack thereof yields a different and disturbing result.
How the US state and federal governments have been responding to the recent slew of lung injury cases this year is the polar opposite of the UK approach—not with calm pragmatism, but with panicked dismissiveness.
Vaping bans in the US threaten both the vape industry and the ex-smokers who took to vaping to quit tobacco and better their health like their British counterparts.
We can learn much from the approach being taken in the UK. Instead of seeing vaping as a problem in itself, they considered its original intent of being a substitute for smoking cigarettes into account. They let it have an opportunity to prove its original premise as indeed viable.
In the meantime, we in the vaping community can do our part in spreading awareness to those who are not aware of vaping as an effective alternative to smoking. The more people there are with the knowledge of vaping’s purpose as a viable solution for the tobacco problem.