Late last week, the Daily Mail, not known for being particularly friendly to the e-cigarette industry (and a dubious source for science in general1), published a short article, not available online, on the recent guidance update published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE (that’s their name, not a comment on how nice they are (although they are nice))).
The Daily Mail writes,
“Health chiefs yesterday issued guidance on how to help people to quit smoking — and for the first time it included advice on vaping for the first time (sic).”
Barring the weird grammar on that lead, the latest guidance from NICE is heartening news for the vaping industry, and another win in what is shaping up to be a very good start of the year for those wanting to stop smoking once and for all.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence produces advice for healthcare, social care, and public health professionals, in participation with Public Health England and the NHS. They also publish quality standards and performance metrics and maintain sources of information oriented towards those who have made medicine and healthcare their job2.
The NICE guidelines published at the end of March are actually an update to and synthesis of previous recommendations regarding smoking cessation in general. This means that, while e-cigarettes are included in the guidelines, most of the document aims to give a high-level overview of what services are available to those looking to quit. This includes advice on telephone quitlines, engaging with people who smoke, and what to do if a patient isn’t ready to give up smoking.
NICE does have its reservations about e-cigarettes: both about e-cigarettes being unlicensed as medical products, as well as the lack of solid long-term study of the effects of e-cigarettes. But it seems to believe that the positives outweigh the negatives. It notes that e-cigarettes are licensed under the Tobacco and Related Products Regulations (the UK’s version of the TPD) and that e-cigarettes are “substantially less harmful to health” than smoking3.
A little good news
That being said, sheer force of quotation—which occupies about a third of the whole DM article—kept the overall tone positive. They cited Hazel Cheeseman from the charity Action On Health and Smoking, director of policy at the British Lung Foundation Alison Cook, and Rugby MP Mark Pawsey4; all of whom had encouraging words for those turning away from tobacco and towards e-cigarettes.
Now, the point of this article isn’t to hammer on the Daily Mail for their historical scaremongering or abuse of the truth surrounding the issues of electronic cigarettes. Rather, we’d like to highlight the huge benefits to society in traditional media outlets like the Daily Mail running positive coverage of events in the industry.
The benefits of proper coverage
See, when a government body comes out with a piece of research, or evidence review, or guideline update, there will always be a main benefit associated with the document itself. In this case, the main benefit is that there’s now a better structure in place to educate healthcare professionals about e-cigs.
But there’s a secondary benefit to this sort of news: when the media picks it up, it legitimises the use of e-cigarettes. Vaping tends to have a bad reputation across huge sections of the population. A good deal of the PHE review dwelled on how little the public seems to know about the relative benefits and harms of e-cigarettes. And if it’s not bog-standard misinformation, it’s the cloying belief that vaping is some sort of niche lifestyle choice, rather than a legitimate stop smoking aid.
For that reason, we commend the Daily Mail on its push to reform the media’s wayward vaping coverage. And we commend NICE for joining the conversation about how to drive the vaping industry forward, and the drive the tobacco industry back.
1 See Dorothy Bishop of Oxford University’s ‘Orwellian Prize for Journalistic Misrepresentation’.
2 The Daily Mail calls them a “drugs rationing watchdog,” which, curiously, doesn’t show up anywhere in NICE’s official mission statement.
3 The DM phrases it less generously, calling e-cigs “‘likely’ [scare quotes theirs] to cause less damage,” before amending that with the full quotation later in the article.
4 No mention of his ministership in the article, though. Only a mistaken claim that he works for the UK Vaping Industry Association. He’s actually Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for E-Cigarettes.