PHE’s Kevin Fenton was the first to acknowledge the potential for vaping back in 2014 when he noted: “Increasing numbers of people are turning to electronic cigarettes – more accurately described as nicotine vapourisers – as an aid to quitting or cutting down their smoking.” (1)
The public health bodies knew little of vaping, but Fenton appreciated: “what is known about the vapour and its contents, it is never better for the health of a smoker or those around them to smoke tobacco rather than use even an unlicensed e-cigarette. E-cigarettes, despite appearances, are not cigarettes and do not produce smoke. It is the smoke, not the nicotine, that causes the vast bulk of the harm.”
Then, Public Health England shook the world in 2015 when it released “E-cigarettes: an evidence update” (2). The update heralded the introduction of the phrase “at least 95% safer” to the global lexicon.
It is safe to say that PHE and its updates have played a fundamental role in supporting ecig advocacy around the world. The announcement last year that PHE would be broken up led many to become concerned that its information output would be diluted.
Churchill’s letter (3) offers some clarity. Covering obesity, nutrition, mental health, harms, sexual health, and public health reforms, she addresses tobacco related harm.
“Preventing the onset of avoidable physical and mental illness and improving health by tackling important public health issues, such as obesity and smoking, is a priority for the government,” she says, and acknowledges PHE has played a major role in the UK “achieving the lowest levels of smoking since records began.”
She states that PHE will, “support the DHSC’s [the Department of Health and Social Care] development of a new tobacco control plan to deliver the government’s smoke-free 2030 ambition including smoking cessation behaviour campaigns.”
PHE’s role appears as though it isn’t going to change when it comes to vaping. They will, “contribute to the government’s ambition for the population to obtain 5 extra healthy years of life by 2035,” and work with the DHSC “to develop the Office of Health Promotion and future healthcare public health and prevention arrangements”.
The ambition appears to be that PHE continue work on health promotion strategies “to improve health, tackle inequalities and contribute to levelling up through the provision of appropriate advice, evidence and expertise” when it comes to tobacco harm reduction and electronic cigarettes.
- E-cigarettes and harm reduction: where are we now and what next? - https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2014/05/21/e-cigarettes-and-harm-reduction-where-are-we-now-and-what-next/
- E-cigarettes: an evidence update - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/e-cigarettes-an-evidence-update
- Letter from Jo Churchill to Michael Brodie, PHE chief executive - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-health-england-priorities-in-2021/letter-from-jo-churchill-to-michael-brodie-phe-chief-executive