I published a major report last year on behalf of The Freedom Association's Freedom to Vape campaign which looked at the vaping policies of all UK councils. The responses highlighted hundreds of outdated policies, so this year we have repeated the exercise and included a couple of extra questions to find out if councils are listening to advise from Public Health England (PHE) which was included in the Government's Tobacco Control Plan.
The early results are not positive, and the response from Glasgow City Council is probably the worst I have read. I know that PHE does not have a remit in Scotland, but I thought that it would be useful to find out if councils in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland were looking at best practice elsewhere. Time will tell if there are, but in the meantime, here are some selected highlights lowlights from Scotland's largest Council. This is from the council's new policy published in August 2017 - just two months ago:
"E-Cigarettes are increasingly being used by smokers who view them as the ‘healthier’ alternative to traditional
cigarettes or tobacco. However they are not permitted to be used or charged within council premises and /
or vehicles and must be smoked externally in line with current policy."
Glasgow City Council, it appears, does not regard e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative. If it did, it wouldn't have put healthier in quotes. Have officers and councillors read any recent research? I doubt it. And as anyone with any knowledge can tell you, you can't smoke an e-cigarette. It does not produce smoke. It produces vapour - basically steam that you would see coming out of the many kettles used on council premises every working day.
The policy goes on to say:
"Prohibiting their use will:
- avoid the impression that smoking is a normal or desirable activity; and
- give the impression to others who may not realise it is an e-cigarette and assume it is acceptable to smoke.
evidence based strategies should be used advising staff of the health risks associated with smoking and the importance of stopping smoking;
advice should be provided regarding approved and tested nicotine replacement therapy to assist with stopping smoking;
E Cigarettes should not be recommended as a smoking cessation aid or a lower risk option than continuing to smoke due to a lack of evidence of their safety and efficacy; and
advice should be given that it is better not to use any form of nicotine in the long term."
Where do I start? When most people see someone vaping they assume that they are trying to give up smoking, or at the very least, trying to cut down the number that they smoke. Having said that, smoking is still a legal activity. All the council has to do is make sure that no-one is breaking the law. A council is a legal entity, not a moral arbiter. As for the final bullet point, as any doctor worth his or her salt will tell you, nicotine is about as harmful as caffeine. It's not the nicotine that does the damage, it's the smoke and tar.
The final part of the e-cigarette section of the policy says:
"There is also research suggesting that there has been insufficient evidence produced supporting the safe use of E-Cigarettes.
"Impartial studies such as Harvard reports and US Food and Drug Administration research state that the vapour has been found to contain detectable levels of several known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed. The reports also suggest that by simulating the use of cigarettes, E-Cigarettes might reactivate the habit in ex-smokers."
The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has put its neck on the line by saying that e-cigarettes are at least 95 per cent safer than smoking combustible tobacco. Is the RCP not evidence based enough for Glasgow Council? It appears not. And the idea that you should force people trying to give up smoking outdoors with other smokers just because someone who has already quit may think about having a cigarette, really is beyond parody. It appears that Glasgow Council would rather ignore all the evidence collated here in the UK, and instead it would rather look to less august bodies across the pond whose research has been discredited.
This is what we are up against, folks. As I said in the title, if ignorance was an Olympic Sport, Glasgow City Council's vaping policy could secure it a gold medal. Glasgow is not the only council in the UK to have an outdated vaping policy. Many are freely admitting to me that their policies are out of date and that they plan to review them. But Glasgow is the only council (so far) that has just reviewed its policy and still comes out with such outdated, ignorant, and prejudiced rubbish.
Once I have collated the responses of all UK councils, I plan to publish the report in about a month's time. I hope this blog has whetted your appetite.
Photo Credit: Kim Traynor