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Viscount Ridley and Ecigs in the House of Lords

The pro harm-reduction Lord pushes the benefits of vaping at the 11th hour

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Viscount Ridley talks about the unfairness of European law making, the manner the Pharmaceutical industry unfairly influenced decision making and how lives will be lost with the imposition of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD). He used the recent reports by Public Health England (PHE) and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) in his arguments. It’s a powerful, if long, speech that demands a listen.

Ridley sprung the debate on the Lords Grand Committee but made few apologies for it seeing as the TPD is set to be implemented this month. “I have no problem with most of the Directive,” he said, “just the parts relating to electronic cigarettes, 6 and 7 essentially.”

“As noble Lords will know, it’s long been my view that this directive scores an own-goal by bringing in measures that would discourage the take-up of vaping, and thereby drive people back to cigarettes or to prevent them quitting.”

“But it’s not just me who takes this view; increasingly it is the view of Public Health England and of the Royal College of Physicians – whose recent report on this topic is, I think, a game changer in this debate. So I am here, at the eleventh hour, to help my honourable friend prevent a mistake being made. Or at least erase the issue.”

Strikingly, when talking about the impact of smoking on the nation, he termed the related deaths: “It’s a Hillsborough every eight hours.” He listed out harm reduction techniques currently in place for things like drink, drugs and sexually transmitted diseases as examples of how we champion common sense in the UK.

As far as success goes, he mentioned that the quit rate for those trying vaping is far greater than those trying replacement therapies or going cold turkey. Ridley then eulogised about the massive impact it has had on lives and the ability to free people from smoking. The TPD, he argued, restricts all of the benefits the small companies have brought to market such as their innovation.

“Britain is probably the world’s leading vaping nation. Virtually all of South America has banned the practise entirely, at the behest of the tobacco industry. In America, it is demonised and quite a lot of people don’t know what it is. Almost all of the 2.6 million vapers in Britain are smokers or ex-smokers.”

“This is, in other words, a public health revolution and it’s costing the taxpayer nothing! By saving smokers money, promoting entrepreneurs and averting ill health it’s boosting the economy.“

“But we have before us a piece of legislation that strangles that revolution in red tape. It’s the product of big company lobbying and backroom deals in Brussels. It is legislation which, last month, the Department of Health admitted in its impact assessment, risks increasing NOT reducing the amount of smoking.”

“This part of the directive is a mess, which does not deserve defending but does need ameliorating.”

“First, given that the RCP last month told the government that it should promote vaping to smokers ‘as widely as possible’, what new emphatic and unambiguous statement will the minister make in support of vaping?”

“Second, given that the Department estimates the new TPD rules will ban 90% of advertising that would have helped to promote switching, what budget has the department specifically set aside for public information campaigns to encourage smokers to move to vaping, as the RCP and PHE both want?”

“And third, given that the regulatory burden the Department is about to place on the industry is so extreme that his officials estimate, at least this is the only estimate in their impact assessment, that the number of notifiable products will be reduced by 96% - from 25,000 to possibly as low as one thousand – what expenditure will the Department make to specifically reduce the cost of the onerous testing regime on the industry?”

“I would ask the minister to avoid repeating the erroneous suggestion his officials have been making that any of the £30 billion’s-worth of public health benefits (that his Department surmises will come from the TPD) would be the result of Article 20, or at least sections 6 and 7 of these regulations. In its impact assessment, on page 45, the Department has not been able to quantify a single benefit from vaping regulation.”

In response to his speech, one of the Lords spoke about how the TPD doesn’t just ignore the RCP recommendation that electronic cigarettes should be promoted, but it actively suppresses information regarding how they can be used and the benefits they offer. The debate covered how dodgy the TPD is and how the government representative in Europe wasn’t even aware that ecigs were still included in the proposals when she voted for them!

For those who frequently lambast politicians for being out of touch, the follow up speeches by other Lords will strike a chord with vapers everywhere. They raised facts, personal anecdotes of how vaping helped them quit and implored the government to see sense with regards to the ecig aspect of the TPD.

Lord Prior of Brampton responded for the government: “I have to say, the arguments put forward have been very powerful and it would be obtuse of me to say otherwise.”

He continued: “We are unequivocally in favour of vaping for people coming off cigarettes. The report produced by the RCP powerfully supports that position. The report called for proportionate regulation and I think that is what we are really discussing today. It is not whether we are in favour or not in favour of vaping, it’s the kind of regulation that should be around it.”

“With reference to Europe and the TPD: “I’m not sure, if left to our own devices, we wouldn’t have come up with something far worse several years ago. I’m not sure whether one can lay this at the door of Brussels ... but less regulation is the best place to start.”

In an effort to allay fear: “The directive...will not ban flavours in liquids. It will ban flavours that pose dangers to health,” and continued to talk about diacetyl. “That the directive will ban all advertising.”

On advertising and online discussion: “The new rules do not prevent information being provided to customers either online or in physical retail outlets. Neither does it ban online forums and independently compiled reviews (YouTube) or blogs. Some advertising will also be allowed for point of sale, advertising boards and leaflets subject to rules set out in existing advertising codes to ensure that these do not appeal to people under-18 or non-users.”

Unfortunately, Lord Prior then began talking about normalisation and gave no indication that the government intended to oppose or delay the TPD. Ridley believes the only solution is to come out of Europe and then formulate a sensible approach to vaping. It’s a view that found warm welcome on the Tory side of the benches – but Labour Lords also supported the case put forward by Ridley and his colleagues in resisting the efforts of Europe to restrict smokers in giving up.

Given that the TPD is set to come into effect this month, will this impact on your voting intentions? The government are content to adopt a wait and see approach at the expense of the vape industry, its employees, vapers and smokers denied the same opportunity we had to quit successfully. For those who intend basing their vote on a range of matters this may not weigh so heavily in their decision making, but for those with a passion for (or vested interest in) vaping it appears to have all but sealed a Brexit vote.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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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.

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