The Government must act now on "flawed" Tobacco Products Directive

"We support a balanced approach towards nicotine containing products (NCPs) such as e-cigarettes, which maximises their potential to help people quit smoking, whilst minimising the risks of unintended consequences that could promote smoking.

"We support ‘light touch’ regulation of new NCPs such as e-cigarettes, to ensure product safety and consistent dose, restrict marketing that risks re-normalising smoking, and stop them being sold to children. At present, we do not believe there is enough evidence to justify an indoor ban on e-cigarettes."

They are not my words. They are the words of Cancer Research UK. I particularly like the reference to "light touch" regulation - advice that the EU did not take. I was surprised, though, to read in yesterday's Daily Mail that Cancer Research UK has criticised tobacco companies for the research they have commissioned regarding the safety of e-cigarettes. They also criticised tobacco companies for promoting vaping as a lifestyle choice, rather than a way of quitting smoking. If true, does it really make any difference? I say that from the point of view of Cancer Research UK, as my personal view is that it is up to the individual to make lifestyle choices for themselves. If people are quitting smoking, or vastly reducing the number of cigarettes they smoke by using e-cigarettes, surely the end result is more important to Cancer Research UK than the route getting there?

The simple truth is that for e-cigarettes to improve exponentially a massive injection of cash is required into research and development. Tobacco companies are really the only businesses that have the resources to make this type of investment, which they are doing so at the moment. If those in the health lobby really cared about results, they would welcome it. For Cancer Research UK to act in such a churlish way says more about them than it does about tobacco companies. 

Yesterday there was a debate in Parliament about the Government's "Tobacco Control Plan". As you would expect, e-cigarettes were mentioned on numerous occasions. Kevin Barron, Labour MP for Rother Valley and a former chairman of the House of Commons Health Committee, said:

"A number of newspapers have picked up on the researchers’ estimate that in 2015 electronic cigarettes helped an additional 18,000 people to quit smoking. That illustrates ​how electronic cigarettes have the potential to be a huge public health innovation. There is growing consensus, including charities such as the British Lung Foundation, Cancer Research UK and the Royal College of Physicians, that electronic cigarettes are a very useful tool for smoking cessation."

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk and a former Health Minister, said: 

"On electronic cigarettes and vaping, although I was a committed remainer in the EU referendum debate, the tobacco products directive is flawed, because it takes an inappropriately tough approach to electronic cigarettes. I therefore hope that the Government will review that directive regularly."

Speaking at the end of the debate, Nicola Blackwood, a Health Minister, said, 

"As the former Chair of the Health Committee, the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron), said, it is notable that one of the most significant disruptions to smoking in recent years has had nothing to do with Government intervention. We have seen considerable take-up of e-cigarettes in the UK, and we know that almost half of the 2.8 million current users are no longer smoking tobacco."

MPs from all parties admit that vaping has the potential to save millions of lives. Norman Lamb described the vaping restrictions in the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) as "flawed". The minister effectively admitted that the free market has been responsible for one of the most significant disruptions to smoking in recent years - not Government policy. So why doesn't the Government seek to, at the very least, put on ice the current restrictions on e-cigarettes in the TPD? 

It really is time for the Government to act. It knows the TPD is flawed. It knows that the advertising ban is counterproductive. It knows that on 20 November, e-liquid manufacturers will no longer be able to manufacture e-liquid with a strength greater than 20mg of nicotine - even though that means many people who have successfully given up smoking through vaping may revert back to smoking cigarettes. It knows that Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians are in favour of vaping as a means of quitting combustible tobacco. It knows that Cancer Research UK has called for "light touch" regulation of the vaping industry. It knows all of these things. If it is not prepared to act now, when will it act? 

As Churchill would have said, we need "Action This Day". 

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