Politics & Campaigns

Health Committee Concerns

Steve Barclay, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care of the United Kingdom addressed the Health and Social Care Committee and made disturbing comments

Share on:
Steve Barclay, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care of the United Kingdom addressed the Health and Social Care Committee and made disturbing comments. He wasn’t alone as Dr Caroline Johnson made some outlandish statements. The meeting points to a subtle yet dangerous shift in Government thinking.

Addressing the Secretary of State, Dr Johnson opened: “I have huge concerns about vaping in children. I have been pushing for reform on it for some time. I met the Prime Minister to talk about vaping in children specifically last week. I know that he is also very exercised about preventing children from getting into vaping.

As Paulette [Hamilton, the MP for Birmingham Erdington] said, the change from a stop-smoking device to becoming a lifestyle product in terms of its marketing and the change to all these colours and flavours like unicorn milkshake that cannot possibly be designed for an adult, middle-aged smoker to quit—because clearly they are not—is of huge concern to me.”

This isn’t about evidence to Caroline Johnson; this is a moral crusade. This is a campaign based on feels which she feels is gaining traction at the highest levels of Government. She is for a big shock when she discovers the wide range of flavours alcohol comes in when she next pops into Stanger’s Bar. Has she seen the colours of the packets of cereals and sweets that adults consume? It’s a throwback to the days when vapers suggested that some opponents will only be happy when all packaging is grey or dark green and liquids only come in “Mud”, “Cloudy day on the allotment”, and “Mother-in-law Staying for the Weekend” flavours.

She continued: “This is about more than just health.”

Wait, you’re not going to like this at all.

One disposable vape is about 40 or 50 cigarettes, which, if you were paying full tax on the cigarettes, would cost you about £30 to £32, whereas it is only £4 or so for a vape, and you can get special offers on them. There is scope there for quite considerable taxation to raise revenue while still allowing it to be cheaper for smokers. There is also trading standards and whether it is doing the right things,” she blitzed the minister with her scattergun of stupid.

How anyone can argue that public health would be improved by equating the tax rates of cigarettes and vapes takes her ridiculous position to a whole new depth.

And so, finally, to her question for Steve Barclay: “What work are you doing specifically across Government? This is a health issue. This is something that requires you to work in a cross-government way to try to tackle it. What are you doing to try to tackle it across the whole of government?”

Barclay spoke briefly about what they are currently doing. The HMRC is set to publish an updated illicit tobacco strategy. This will detail how those involved in the illicit market will be targeted, caught and punished. He also repeated that the “free vaping samples to minors” loophole has been closed.

On the subject of tax, he said: “As you would expect me to say, that is an issue for my colleague, the Chancellor. Of course, we would have cross-departmental discussions in the context of public health, but tax policy would sit with the Chancellor.”

As they say in the newspapers, the Minister did not rule out tax rises on vape products.

In terms of vaping,” he continued, “there is a recognition in that we have been having an annual review since 2014 that vaping is not risk-free, and it poses potential risks, which are not clear. The current view of the Department is that those risks are a fraction of the risks of smoking cigarettes.

Clearly, it is an area where the data is evolving and people are learning more about the risks specific to vaping.”

Maybe he is privy to research no one else has seen, but the evolution of research has done nothing but concrete the relative safety of the products and efficacy in use across all types of groups.

What is coming through in the debate is particularly the concern about the uptake of vaping among children and the way that products are being marketed in a way that particularly looks like it is targeted at children. That is something that Neil O’Brien in particular has been looking at in the context of the call for evidence that closed, I think, last week or the week before. We have announced some initial measures on that. It is something that the Prime Minister gave a speech on a few weeks ago, making some changes, but we are also open to looking at more, and we are working through that.”

There is still no indication what they are going to do but there is a will to ‘get tough on youth vaping and the causes of youth vaping’ – and disadvantaged adult smokers be damned. Populism trumping evidence-based policy making.

Johnson returned to the mic: “The rate at which the number of children are taking up vaping is increasing all the time. The proportion of children is increasing not quite exponentially but certainly very quickly. This is an urgent problem. The consultation, as you said, closed, I think, on 4 June—certainly a couple of weeks ago. How long will it take you to analyse that consultation and come up with concrete plans that you can put into place?”

Not quite exponentially? Do you think Caroline Johnson has the first cue what that word means?

Barclay’s response is chilling: “It is very helpful to hear the view of the Committee on this, which the second perm secretary and I will relay to colleagues. I hope you can see that the Prime Minister has been engaged on this issue and that we have already taken some steps. We are very live to the ongoing issues around single-use disposable vapes, the amount of nicotine content that is allowed, on minimum quality standards in terms of flavours, how they are packaged and so on.”

From a Government that was completely committed to evidence-based legislation, we are shifting to the tipping point of accepting Johnson’s ridiculous outpourings.

And here comes the kicker…

He continued: “In fact, I had a meeting with a leading Australian figure this morning on some of the lessons around the vaping industry in Australia, how we can look at what is being done there and whether there are any lessons that we can share with each other.”

There is only one lesson to learn from Australia’s approach to vaping and it’s this: DO NOT DO ANYTHING THAT AUSTRALIA HAS DONE BECAUSE IT HAS BEEN AN UNMITTIGATED DISASTER.

Barclay did add: “I look to the chief medical officer and others with the clinical background to advise me in terms of the focus on smoking cessation, looking at how vaping relates to that, and how we improve our evaluation and understanding of the risks. What comes through from the Committee’s questions and certainly from the discussions I have had is that there is concern over vaping in children, and we are very actively looking at that.”

But the last word on the subject went to Dr Johnson, who told the committee: “Eight children from one school, St George’s Academy in Sleaford, have collapsed at different times following vaping and required hospital treatment, with some of them becoming quite unwell. This will no doubt be replicated in other schools across the country, so it is a very significant problem.”

Welcome to the UK’s EVALI misinformation campaign that is being amorally used as a vehicle to attack tobacco harm reduction. Cessation and harm reduction experts need to take her to task on this.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
View Articles

Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

Join the discussion

Vaping News

Harm Reduction For The Rich

The United Kingdom risks becoming a harm reduction country only for the wealthy, according to Michael Landl of the World Vapers’ Alliance

Vaping News

CAPHRA Highlights Tobacco Control Flaws

The Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates highlights the flaws in tobacco control which has led to the rise of black market in Australia

Vaping News

A Missed Opportunity at COP10

The Smoke Free Sweden movement says that COP10 was a missed opportunity to save millions of lives

Vaping News

COP10: Promote Tobacco Harm Reduction

Experts with Smoke Free Sweden are emphasising the urgent need for a Tobacco Harm Reduction approach at COP10