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Parliamentary Science & Technology Committee Pt.IV

The Science and Technology Committee met for the final time as it investigates electronic cigarettes.

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The Parliamentary Science & Technology Committee met for the final time as it gathered evidence for the current situation regarding vaping in the UK. This time it invited representatives from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), Public Health England (PHE), the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

This was the fourth and final meeting for evidence gathering. The first session can be seen here, the 2nd Oral Session here, the third session in March here, and this final session here.

First to speak was Rob Morrison, a Senior Regulatory Policy Executive and “ecig policy specialist” at ASA: “Our general policy outlook is that where products are legal for sale then they should be able to conform to policies.”

“In 2016, we amended policies so that they were in line with the requirements of the Tobacco Products Directive. Our most recent work was to revisit the prohibition on health claims that was implemented in 2014.”

"It’s one of the lowest in Europe except Sweden – but they use snus." - Professor John Newton

Next came the PHE’s Professor John Newton, Director of Health Improvement responsible for tobacco control: “It’s worth pointing out that the UK has a very good track record on tobacco control in general, and internationally judged to have a very good approach to tobacco control,” before being prompted that the smoking rate in the UK is now under 16%. “Yes, 15.5. It’s one of the lowest in Europe except Sweden – but they use snus. We are very pleased with this progress.”

“In relation to ecigarettes, the approach across the UK has been to maximise the potential for ecigarettes to drive down smoking prevalence, but at the same time to manage any risks with appropriate regulations. The regulation in the UK is among the strictest in the world.”

We are concerned about the misperceptions about harm among the general public, and somewhat concerned that the uptake of ecigarettes seems to have plateaued among smokers” - Professor John Newton

“We are very pleased to see a general consensus around the view that the use of ecigarettes is likely to be substantially safer than smoking.”

Regarding the figure of being 95% safer: “Well, we quoted the figure that originates from a review of the evidence by independent scientists – who in turn are quoting that figure from another review. Our position is that it is the best available published estimate. It does have value, we are trying to convey the extend to which ecigarettes are much less harmful than smoking – but it’s not a precise scientific figure.”

Dr Ian Hudson, the MHRA’s Chief Executive gave an overview of what function the MHRA serves with regards companies listing their products with them, and how they run a “vigilance scheme” to keep a check on safety issues, and working with Trading Standards to address problems.

He then spoke about how companies could seek an alternative route to market by applying for a medical licence, but it “has not proved popular”. Not a single company has applied for one in the entire time it has been offered.

Professor Gillian Leng, NICE’s Deputy Chief Executive, said: “NICE’s role is to issue guidance based on the evidence. It’s aimed at professionals and commissioners, not at the public although they have an interest. Our most recent piece, in March, was about smoking cessation interventions and services. We were clear in that guidance about the advice that should be provided for people who wish to quit smoking.”

The evidence suggests that ecigarettes are significantly safer than smoking tobacco." - Professor Gillian Leng

“The evidence suggests that ecigarettes are significantly safer than smoking tobacco. We have got a suite of guidance that we are beginning to update (significantly including advice regarding children and stopping in pregnancy). It will be published in early 2020.”

Later on, Steve Brine, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care, and Dr Tim Baxter, who is the Director of Healthy Behaviours at the Department of Health and Social Care, submitted evidence.

The full video of the proceedings, stretching across two scintillating hours, can be viewed online.

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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