The government’s public health body, Public Health England (PHE), has just released their latest review of the e-cigarettes and heated tobacco industry, and it paints an ugly picture for tobacco use in the UK.

Let’s start at the beginning.

The good news: a little over ten years ago, almost one out of every four adults in the UK smoked cigarettes. In 2017, that number has dropped down almost one in six, and shows no signs of slowing. At least some of that decline is due to the growing popularity of vaping, which PHE claims is at least 95% less harmful than smoking traditional cigarettes.

The bad news: still, across the globe, someone is admitted to hospital due to smoking-related illness every single minute, said John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE. He goes on to admit that even with today’s vaping statistics looking bright, smoking accounts for almost 80,000 deaths every year. And the number of e-cigarette users has plateaued at 2.9 million, indicating that vaping is running into some trouble with uptake.

On top of that, education on the safety of vaping is still quite low. Half of smokers don’t realise that vaping is healthier than smoking. This is likely due, the report states, to a misunderstanding of the health risks of nicotine. As we’ve covered before, nicotine isn’t the cause of health harms in smoking—that honour falls to tobacco.

The percentage of people who know that? Between 8-9%. Oof.

Putting the vape in hospitals

One way that PHE is suggesting to raise vaping awareness while encouraging smokers to quit is for hospitals to go vape-friendly. Even today, at Colchester General Hospital and Ipswich Hospital, smoking shelters have been removed and replaced with outdoor vaping areas.

PHE has even suggested creating private vaping areas for long-term hospital patients, or allowing vaping in single-occupancy rooms.

In an editorial published with the PHE review, Martin Dockerell, tobacco control lead for PHE, urged hospitals to take a more hardline stance on smoking. He encouraged hospitals to take a two-pronged offensive on smoking: “One is not allowing smoking on the premises, the other is helping every smoker to quit.”

The strongest case exists for psychiatric hospitals, whose patients, Dockerell claims, have the highest prevalence of smoking and highest prevalence of smoking-related harm.

Vaping as a prescription

The PHE review also addresses healthcare professionals who might be interested in prescribing vaping to smokers looking to quit. While those in healthcare might take an active interest in encouraging vaping, they’ve run into a serious problem.

No e-cigarettes have yet been licensed by the Medicines and Health Care Product Regulatory Authority (MHRA). This isn’t because of the dangers of vaping, but because no manufacturer has yet gone through the steps to license a product and bring it to market.

PHE thus encourages government and the MHRA to support manufacturers pursuing a licence for their products as medical aids. This would overcome a major hurdle in getting e-cigarettes into hospitals and into the hands of those looking to quit smoking.

For most, the transition from smoking to e-cigarettes wouldn’t be particularly difficult. A e-cigarette like the VL5 disposable cigalike has the same form factor as a traditional cigarette. A VL5 doesn’t need refilling. And a VL5 offers a substantially better value than a cigarette. You don’t need to flick the ash off a VL5. Or carry a lighter.

If the PHE review has made anything abundantly clear, it’s that the main obstacle between those looking to quit—and even those not looking—is ignorance of the benefits. Empowering health professionals to spread the information around and put VL5 disposables into the hands of those that need them is the big hurdle. From there, the race towards good health for everyone will mostly run itself.

Chris Polenski
Chris Polenski