Health Minister Quizzed About Vaping

Posted 22nd October 2018 by Dave Cross
Jim Shannon, the DUP Shadow spokesperson for Health, tabled a number of questions to Steven Brine, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, regarding vape legislation in the future. The responses have been recorded in Hansard, the official record of Parliament.

Vaping Legislation After Brexit

The first set of questions posed by Shannon asked “whether the UK will continue to include vaping products as tobacco products in the EU Tobacco Products Directive after the EU leaves the UK,” and “whether [Brine] plans to bring forward legislative proposals to amend the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 after the UK leaves the EU.”

Brine responded: “Vaping products are covered by the European Union Tobacco Products Directive which has been implemented into United Kingdom domestic law through the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016. The Government will introduce legislation to ensure that existing tobacco control legislation continues to operate effectively after EU exit.”

“Under s58 of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 the Government is required to carry out and publish a review of the legislation by May 2021. As announced in the Tobacco Control Plan the Government will review where the UK’s exit from the EU offers us opportunities to re-appraise current regulation to ensure this continues to protect the nation’s health."

So, while the opportunity exists for a relaxation of some aspects imposed under the TPD, Brine is not committing to changing them: “We will look to identify where we can sensibly deregulate without harming public health, or where EU regulations limit our ability to deal with tobacco.”

Push For Indoor Vaping

“What comparative assessment he has made of the effect on peoples health of (a) vaping and (b) smoking, what assessment he has made of the potential merits of the use of vape products to help people stop smoking,” and then, “with reference to evidence from Public Health England that the risks to health associated with the use of vape products are significantly less than for smoking, what steps he is taking to permit vape products to be used indoors.”

Shannon continued with further related queries:

  • “Whether his Department provides support to local stop smoking services that want to promote vaping.
  • If his Department will take steps to make smokers aware of the relative public health benefits of vaping instead of smoking.
  • Which (a) Department and (b) agency has responsibility for the provision of information on vaping products to smokers.
  • Whether his Department is taking steps to encourage smokers to take up vaping as a method of quitting smoking.”

Steve Brine replied: “The Government has consistently highlighted that quitting smoking and nicotine use completely is the best way to improve health. E-cigarettes are not risk free. However, the evidence is increasingly clear that e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to health than smoking tobacco, and can help smokers to quit, particularly when combined with stop smoking services. In the Tobacco Control Plan for England published in July 2017, the Government committed Public Health England to updating its evidence report on e-cigarettes and other novel nicotine delivery systems annually until the end of the Parliament in 2022.”

“PHE’s evidence review argues that e-cigarette use, alone or in combination with licensed medication and behavioural support from a stop smoking service, appears to be helpful in the short term, and that e-cigarettes have contributed to tens of thousands of additional quitters from smoking in England.”

“The PHE evidence review concluded that ‘to date there have been no identified health risks of passive vaping to bystanders’. PHE has produced guidance for organisations on developing appropriate vaping policies for public places and workplaces. Such policies should be based on the evidence and support smokers to quit while managing any identified risks.”

“PHE has committed to include messages about the relative safety of e-cigarettes within quit smoking campaigns such as during the annual Stoptober campaign,” continued Brine.

Brine is not prepared to offer additional funds to support awareness campaigns, preferring to leave decisions on what support to offer to Public Health England.

Shortfills & Nic Shots

Shannon wanted to know, “what assessment [Brine] has made of the adequacy of the regulatory regime in relation to the production of nicotine (a) shots and (b) shortfills,” and, “if [Brine] will conduct an assessment of the (a) adequacy of the regulation of non-nicotine liquid for vape products and (b) the medical effects of shortfills or nicotine shots.”

Brine’s response was to announce an intention to address this matter at some point in the future: “As shortfills do not contain nicotine when sold they are not regulated under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations, but are covered by General Product Safety Regulations. The Government will conduct a review of the TRPR at a later date.”

Efficacy & Supporting Smoking Cessation

Shannon wanted to know about the efficacy of vaping and what the government understands about its potential to stop smoking. He asked, “What assessment [Brine] has made of the potential effect on levels of smoking of an increase in the take-up of vaping, and whether [Brine’s] Department has received representations on the link between the levels of (a) vaping and (b) smoking.”

Finally, Shannon asked, “what assessment [Brine] has made of the potential merits of reviewing the policy of local stop smoking services in order to promote vaping.”

In his reply, Brine noted: “Smoking rates have fallen steeply in recent years at the same time as e-cigarette use has increased. Adult smoking prevalence in England is 14.9%, the lowest rate on record, whilst around 2.5 million people in England use e-cigarettes, the majority of whom no longer smoke.”

“Whilst the link between uptake of vaping and decline in smoking is not straightforward, the latest research suggests that up to 57,000 people a year are quitting smoking through e-cigarette use who would not have quit through other means.”

Although ministers and officials receive a wide range of representations from different stakeholders, Brine stated that the government would continue to take its direction from the annual Public Health England report.

Brine concluded: “Local stop smoking services are able to promote vaping as a tool to stop smoking, drawing upon advice from Public Health England and the National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training. According to Public Health England, smokers who combine e-cigarettes with local stop smoking services have some of the highest quit rates of all service users.”

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker