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Call for public vaping ban denounced by PHE

Experts warn of the dangers of banning vaping in public.

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Medical experts have called on politicians to heed their advice to adopt a mature approach to electronic cigarette regulation. It follows a statement from a medic at the British Medical Association's (BMA) annual meeting in Belfast, who suggested vaping should be banned in areas used by the public.

Rosanna O'Connor, director of drugs, alcohol and tobacco at Public Health England (PHE), is reported as saying: “Vaping is not the same as smoking. Second-hand smoke is harmful to health, but there is no evidence that e-cigarette vapour carries the same harms. In fact a ban on using e-cigarettes in public places could be damaging, as it may put off smokers from using e-cigarettes to help them quit.”

O’Connor was prompted to speak following Dr Iain Kennedy’s words to the BMA’s Belfast conference. Kennedy was calling for an outright ban on the use of ecigs in and around schools, cafes, bars, restaurants and museums.

Kennedy claimed: “There is growing evidence that passive vaping happens, particularly based around testing nicotine levels in households. What we don't know yet is what the precise mechanisms of that are, what long-term harm there is.  This is cutting edge research, with findings being published at the moment.”

The BMA has been largely consistent in adopting a position opposed to implementing a harm reduction approach, preferring to follow the precautionary principle favoured by Welsh Labour. Advocates of the precautionary principle contend that it is a common sense approach where the science is inconclusive. Others argue that such an approach is rooted in logical fallacies and “is also often invoked erroneously (perhaps going against the prevailing scientific consensus) in situations where a technology has studies that provide overwhelming evidence that negative consequences are rare or minor, but the critic has misinterpreted or overstated the data.”

Kennedy also maintained that there should be an absolute ban on the use of certain chemicals found in eliquid. Diacetyl, he claims, has been linked to lung damage and is "already a concern among the e-cigarette community".

“They are undoubtedly safer than cigarettes but that does not mean they are completely 100% safe,” Kennedy continued. “It looks like they are probably safe in short-term use. We don't have any evidence on long-term use because they are relatively new products. We always ask 'are e-cigarettes safer than cigarettes?' But I don't think taking the most harmful manmade product as the yardstick for safety is a good idea.”

The call flies in the face of the report produced by Professor Ann McNeil and Professor Peter Hajek for PHE, in which they state vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking based on current evidence.

His demand also ignores the RCP report that stretched to over 200 pages and focussed solely on the science behind vaping. The organisation wholeheartedly threw its support behind ecigs and emphasised that being at least 95% safer means the potential risks are outweighed by the benefits for people looking to switch from smoking.

Without any evidence to support a ban on vaping in public it would be imbecilic for the government to take on board such ideas. Coupled with a ban on advertising, it would do no more than hide away one of the greatest public health products ever devised from the people who need it most – to say nothing about the infringement of civil liberty for no good reason. We wholly support Rosanna O'Connor when she says there is no evidence regarding second-hand vape. Moreover, it is ridiculous that the doctor’s trade union is entertaining notions in such direct conflict with the evidence presented by PHE and the RCP.

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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