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Let’s clear the cloud of confusion: vaping saves lives

Marcus Saxton, IBVTA Chairman | Independent British Vape Trade Association

4 min read Partner content

Barely a day passes without a story on the apparent perils or potential risks of vaping. Vaping has been around for over a decade, but the growth in disposable or single-use devices is a relatively new phenomenon and there are legitimate concerns around youth access and their environmental impact.

That’s why as a responsible sector we are bringing forward comprehensive measures to address such issues whilst seeking from government, regulation that is able to keep pace with this rapidly changing environment.

However, there is clear evidence that the constant negative headlines are now impacting the understanding and benefits of vaping with the public and, crucially, among smokers. Research published by the public health group, Action on Smoking and Health, in August 2023 highlights that while 94% of smokers had heard of vapes, 40% incorrectly believe vaping is the same as or more harmful than smoking. Worryingly, this is the highest figure on record, which is up by 60% since 2019.

This is a concerning trend that shows the awareness and understanding of the health benefits of vaping are going backwards. Unchecked, this growing confusion risks jeopardising the positive work that vaping has achieved in the last decade and will deny smokers and ex-smokers a proven and positive quit aid, resulting in 2 in 3 lifetime tobacco users suffering death by a smoking-related cause. 27% of smokers are yet to try vaping with reasons given including concerns that are being incorrectly amplified in the media.

The UK is one of the most supportive and progressive countries in recognising the health benefits of switching from smoking to vaping. The Government has stated that vaping is 95% safer than smoking and it is to be applauded for rolling out ‘Swap to Stop’, providing vaping devices to one million, or 1 in 6, of smokers. The results speak for themselves; thanks to vaping the number of 18-year-olds who regularly smoked fell from 24.5% in 2021 to 19.5% in 2022, a reduction of 20% in one year1. Whilst a recent study by Brunel University found that the NHS could save more than £500 million per year if half of England’s adult smokers switched to vapes.

Government has a role to key role to play in helping the UK stop smoking and, in tandem, the vaping sector must step up to the mark. That’s why the IBVTA, the trade association that represents the UK’s leading independent vape manufacturers, importers, distributors, and vendors is today launching a major national public information campaign to help correct some of this misinformation and clear the fog around vaping. To underpin this campaign, we are also publishing major new consumer insight that shows the real picture of vaping including the different types of vaping devices, and how smokers are using them to quit.

The findings underline the importance of vaping and flavours to moving smokers off tobacco: 37% of ex-smokers (who quit in the past 5 years) and 46% of regular smokers have tried a vaping device to help them quit smoking and 65% reported flavours were important in their decisions to try or continue to use vaping as an alternative to smoking. In contrast, just 19% said that they would consider using an NHS stop smoking service.

The research also reveals for the first time the use of different types of vaping devices and the stage at which smokers and ex-smokers are using them. Single-use vapes, chiefly because of their ease of use, play a key role in helping smokers to begin the initial transition off tobacco with 53% of regular smokers and 61% of ex-smokers (who quit in the past 2 years) have used or are using a single-use recyclable device.

Once over the initial tobacco withdrawal, ex-smokers were then likely to transition to another type of vaping with 43% saying that they would switch to, for example, a refillable or pod-based system. This journey away from tobacco using different devices at different stages has gone unresearched and unreported up to now, but lends further evidence to the critical role all forms of vaping play in transitioning smokers off tobacco and, crucially, to keeping them from returning.

With talk in Westminster and Holyrood of a ban on single-use vapes, such a move, as the evidence clearly shows, would take away a key smoking cessation tool (or worse, drive its distribution into the hands of criminals, unchecked and unregulated) and jeopardize both the UK and Scottish government’s smoke-free targets.

We welcome the scrutiny of the media, but that scrutiny must be based on the facts. It also needs to be based on the compelling evidence that shows vaping, including the use of flavoured recyclable devices, are key to getting smokers off tobacco.

It’s critical that the key message that vaping saves lives is not lost in the noise and heat of the current debate and coverage.

1. Rapid growth in disposable e‐cigarette vaping among young adults in Great Britain from 2021 to 2022: a repeat cross‐sectional survey - Tattan‐Birch - 2023 - Addiction - Wiley Online Library

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