Dawkins and McRobbie are very cognisant that when it comes to dealing with the carnage tobacco causes, a harm reduction mentality needs to embrace new developments. The impact is clear: “Smoking is one of the largest causes of death and disease in the developed world, responsible for 96,000 deaths per year in the UK,” they write. “On an individual level, a long-term regular smoker loses an average of 10 years of their life. The combined direct medical and indirect costs (e.g. loss of productivity) to the NHS are estimated to be £13.9 billion annually.”
While they welcome the successes in reducing the number of smokers and deterring would-be smokers from taking up the habit, they lament: “success rates in those attempting to quit, even with the use of proven effective methods such as Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) or other pharmacotherapies (e.g. bupropion, varenicline), remains very low.”
For them, this means new tech should be welcomed with open arms: “Increasing the number of people attempting to quit and improving the success rates of those attempts is a clear priority for public health. This means encouraging smoking cessation via any means but given their increasing popularity and the emerging evidence for smoking cessation, e-cigarettes have the potential to help meet this goal.”
The pair highlight why vaping has worked for so many – but also why so many smokers fail to stick with it: “Psychology tells us that the easier something is the more likely people are to change their behaviour. However, in a survey by ASH UK, 18% of those who had stopped using an e-cigarette reported doing so due to difficulties such as refuelling, replacing components, or leaking. Newer generation devices have been described as ‘bulky’ or ‘scary’.”
The briefing document is clear that devices still have a way to go if they are going to make a sizeable impact on the hard-core of smokers: “E-cigarettes have improved over time in other areas (increased battery life, less leaking and over-heating), however, there is still some way to go. Continued innovation producing low cost, simple to use devices that are effective in delivering nicotine, along with clear and consistent information, easy access and assistance where needed [e.g. via the Stop Smoking Services], are all necessary in order to encourage more smokers to quit smoking using e-cigarettes.”
Dawkins and McRobbie’s BPS briefing document is another welcome arrow in harm reduction’s quiver as the journey continues to eliminate unnecessary tobacco-related illness and death.