Ranil Jayawardena will have been disappointed to discover that neither has the government collected any statistics on any school-based THC-related incidents, nor have there been any. Jayawardena’s question highlights how precarious tobacco harm reduction is in the United Kingdom. We have benefitted from some outstanding, intelligent politicians fighting for vaping over the last few years – this is set to change.
With an election looming, it is inevitable that the make-up of the Department of Health will change, as will the structure of the Science and Technology Committee. New faces will come in by necessity as Labour’s Sir Kevin Barron and the Lib Dem’s Norman Lamb wave goodbye to politics.
Norman Lamb’s last hurrah was to present the Seventh Report of the Science and Technology Committee on E-cigarettes in Westminster Hall.
“It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the very first time, Sir Henry, in my last appearance in this Chamber,” began Lamb, “and it has been a pleasure to have you as my constituency next-door neighbour for the last 18 years. I am pleased to have secured a debate on this important work undertaken by my Committee before this Parliament draws to a close. It is great that we have been able to hold the debate in the month of Stoptober, the big anti-smoking initiative, which I think has been successful, and which I remember launching in my time as a Minister, back in the day.”
Lamb highlighted that data released by the Office for National Statistics showed that the adult smoking rate in England had dipped down to 14.4% in 2018. He said that this represents a “significant advance in reducing the prevalence of smoking” and builds on rates that have fallen every year since 2011.
Where rates have failed to drop is those suffering from mental ill health.
“In Great Britain in 2018, there were approximately 3.2 million vapers—6.3% of the population—which marks a significant increase since 2014, when the figure was 3.7%.”
Lamb has always contended that vaping offers benefits to smokers – but especially to the poorest in society and those with mental illness. He was not alone in calling out NHS England for failing to send a representative to the hearing, and demand that it demonstrates clearer support for vaping, “it being very clear from all the available evidence that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking”.
- A study published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine where the one-year abstinence rate was 18% in the e-cigarette group, compared with 9.9% in the nicotine replacement group
- The 2019 survey carried out by YouGov for Action on Smoking and Health where the three main reasons for vaping remain as an aid to quitting (22%), preventing relapse (16%) and to save money (14%)
Conservative Gareth Johnson asked: “Does he agree that the Government could reach their ambitious target, which he alluded to, by embracing vaping?”
Lamb responded: “I totally agree. The statistics that I am citing make the point about raising awareness, even among clinicians. We thought that it was just the general public who needed to understand better the relative risks, but clearly clinicians also need to understand the relative risks so that they can advise their patients more effectively.”
“Two in five clinicians feel uncomfortable recommending e-cigarettes to their patients who smoke. Again, that is an extraordinary finding. Fewer than three in 10 agree that their current knowledge is enough for advising patients about e-cigarettes.”
He went on to point out that recommendations put down by the committee had been broadly accepted by the government – yet they are “not due to be fully implemented until 2023-24”.