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5 May 2016

Change. Is. Happening. ... In Britain

In January, UK National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training published a briefing to stop smoking services encouraging the use of electronic cigarettes as a way to quit smoking, marking the beginning of a whole new chapter in vaping. In most other countries public health services are still either opposing or overly cautious about the concept of tobacco harm reduction, unwilling to accept the changing status of nicotine. Moments like this though are promising change.

Public health activists and scientists in Britain have had their differences and many still do. British Medical Journal is often a battle field where opinions without evidence or misleading analysis misrepresenting the data is published while others praise the opportunity. But ok, we get it. In the early days there were more questions than answers and it’s their job to protect us. So NHS not suggesting vaping or Department of Health recommending to “exercise caution” was okay in 2010.

But the mounting evidence confirming low relative risk of vaping compared to smoking tobacco has turned the tide. Britain was the first country where vaping started gaining support on government level. The influential Behavioural Insights Team, aka the 'Nudge unit' put their support behind vaping already in 2011. In 2016 the NHS page states that vaping devices “allow you to inhale nicotine without most of the harmful effects of smoking”. The NHS is expected to start prescribing electronic cigarettes this year. With the briefing adding another positive moment the stars seem to be aligning.

So what was so awesome about the briefing? Well, everything. First off the it provides a look into the minds of health officials. The recommendations how to start introducing vaping to smokers, the examples of what language to use clearly shows how early days vaping is for them and how distrustful they've been this far. 2016 in vaping to them is what 2007 and 2008 was for the vaping community.

The key points deliver shift in attitude - vaping can be viewed as a recreational choice. Dual use is okay because that’s how many who want to quit get started. Flavours are okay and even more, they’re important for a lot of vapers to get an experience that doesn’t remind them smoking. That’s completely new language and absolutely different from what their counterparts in the US are saying.

When ASH conducted a survey in 2015 asking how respondents felt about vaping in terms of relative safety compared to smoking, results showed that 2% said vaping was more harmful than smoking, 20% equally harmful, 52% less harmful, 2% completely harmless and 23% did not know. Only 52% people knowing the right answer is the result of war on vaping. Now public health officials can get their stories straight and start telling the actual truth to smokers improving the image of vaping.

For now, this moment is a huge step forward. This is common ground for everyone involved. Let’s hope we can look back to this day as the day when the situation around vaping started getting better spreading to other countries as well. Especially to the US where the upcoming FDA regulation could wipe out vaping and with it the opportunity to improve health and save lives of smokers.