PHE Report: Experts and Advocates Respond

Posted 24th February 2021 by Dave Cross
In 2015, After the first PHE report declared vaping to be at least 95% safer than smoking, Professor Martin McKee began his assault on science and evidence with an Freedom Of Information request. “Dear Public Health England,” he began, “Your report seems to indicate that this was based on ‘expert opinions’ or what others might describe as guesses.”

The evidence continues to rack up but McKee remains stuck in the past. Professor Ann McNeill, Professor of Tobacco Addiction at King’s College London, and lead author of the report explains where it comes from: “Our report draws together findings from randomised controlled trials, stop smoking services and population studies and concludes that nicotine vaping products are an effective way of successfully quitting smoking.

“What is concerning is that smokers, particularly those from disadvantaged groups, incorrectly and increasingly believe that vaping is as harmful as smoking. This is not true and means fewer smokers try vaping.

It is safe to say that Martin McKee is one of the reasons such misbeliefs are occurring. Him and the Bloomberg-funded organisations combined with a pliant media preferring salacious content to the factual.

“The goal for 2030 is to be smokefree in England. The development of a new Tobacco Control Plan and this year’s review of the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations 2016 is an opportunity to ensure that the regulations around vaping are appropriate. The regulations are also hoped to help smokers to quit, while not attracting people who have never smoked.”

What was clear from ASH’s survey was that further restrictions aren’t needed, and could do with being slackened off to promote greater numbers of smokers to switch.

The Electronic Cigarette Company

Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH: “Rightly, since e-cigarettes emerged as an alternative to smoking, the government has sought to strike a balance between helping smokers to quit and protecting children. As ASH research included in the report for PHE shows, e-cigarette use among 11- to 18-year-olds has to date remained low, but on the downside their potential as an adult quitting aid has not been fully realised.

“As we strive to achieve a smokefree nation by 2030 more needs to be done to support adult smokers who could benefit from switching to do so, while eliminating loopholes in the laws which could be used to promote products to teenagers.”

Year in year out, Arnott’s survey show there is no teen problem yet she persists in worrying about it. Maybe her calls for flavours to be banned are also what lie behind vaping’s “potential as an adult quitting aid” going unrealised?

Professor John Newton provided further comment: “PHE’s advice remains that smokers should switch to vaping products to help them quit smoking, but non-smokers should not take up vaping. Vaping products contain significantly less harmful chemicals than cigarettes but are not without some risks.

“PHE has commissioned a full review of the evidence on the safety of vaping products, which will be published next year in 2022. King’s College London is working with a number of different researchers from the UK and US (including some who contributed to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s e-cigarette report in in 2018) to conduct this review.”

Vape Club

The World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) welcomed the Public Health England report. Michael Landl, Director of the WVA, commented on the report: “Today’s report from Public Health England is great news for vapers. We have further confirmation vaping is a way out of smoking. Those who continue to claim that vaping is a gateway to smoking should take the time to read the science. ‘Listen to the science’ is something we’ve heard a lot lately with COVID but hopefully those that continually criticise vaping will this time. They cannot continue to pick and choose the science that suits them.”

Michael Landl shared his concerns about the perception of vaping among current smokers: “More than half of smokers believe that vaping is more harmful or as harmful as smoking. That is a huge concern. Misinformation about vaping plays a huge role in this misunderstanding and we all need to do whatever we can to prevent it.”

The WVA says that despite this further example of scientific evidence demonstrating the effectiveness of vaping as a means to quit smoking, the European Commission’s proposal for Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan - which was recently published - sets out steps to systematically curb vaping using the same techniques used to curb tobacco use. Such examples include expanding taxation to novel tobacco products, vaping bans outdoors and flavour bans. Next week the Commission’s scientific advisory board called SCHEER, will present their updated report on e-cigarettes which will be the basis for further EU regulations.

Commenting on Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan, Landl said: “To date, the EU Commission has ignored the science on vaping in their Beating Cancer Plan. I hope that today’s report from Public Health England will be the wake-up call needed for them to drop the ideological approach in favour of one based on evidence.”

The New Nicotine Alliance also “very much welcomes this latest review”, but remain concerned that with the good news, “it also reports on the damage that irresponsible anti-harm reductionists are causing.”

Premier Ecigs

The NNA says: “Considering much of the rhetoric trumpeted by opponents of reduced risk products centres on fears around youth vaping - and while it is certainly right that we continue to remain vigilant in this regard - these data suggest the answer to those pleading that we should ‘think of the children’ should be ‘what children?’”

ASH’s own figures show that only a tiny proportion of teens vape, those who do are smokers or ex-smokers, and the figures haven’t changed in any noticeable fashion over the period data has been collected. The NNA seems to make a very strong point.

It talks about the direct consequences of “shameful scare stories promoted by those opposed to vaping - regardless of evidence – and is having a tangible negative effect on public health. The lack of willingness to debate by those ideologically opposed to vaping is also increasingly proving that they have no arguments left in the face of yet more clear evidence revealed by PHE today. Our view is that they should embrace new innovative options like vaping and abandon their obstructionist stance before they sink further into the realms of conspiracy theorists.

The NNA also voices its concern about just 11% of stop smoking services supply vaping equipment, and comments: “We sincerely hope that stop smoking services, healthcare professionals, health and wellbeing managers and policymakers read this report and take note.

The NNA also passionately believes that vaping is just a test case for the principle of tobacco harm reduction and that the UK government should seize the opportunity of Brexit to cast off over-precautionary restrictions on other alternative products such as snus, heated tobacco as well as vaping, along with welcoming the promise that modern products like nicotine pouches can offer.”


In October, the NNA wrote to the Department of Health and Social Care with its post-Brexit recommendations on this subject which you can read here.

Even more importantly,” the NNA continues, “those governments hostile to tobacco harm reduction, and the WHO, should read today’s PHE review and ask themselves how much more quickly they could drive down smoking rates if they adopted the open-minded and evidence-based approach taken in England.”


  1. Vaping in England: evidence update February 2021 –
  2. World Vapers’ Alliance -
  3. New Nicotine Alliance -

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker
Not Blowing Smoke