While driving to work this morning I heard the words ‘electronic cigarettes’ and ‘prescriptions’ on the radio, and fearing the worst immediately turned up the volume. Much to my surprise, I learned Public Health England were calling for e-cigs to be prescribed by GPs to help smokers quit. I have smoked on and off for over a decade, and have only been able to quit successfully with the help of my e-cig, so this was music to my ears.
This came as quite a surprise, given the disastrous news e-cig users in Wales received earlier this year. The Welsh Assembly’s Public Health Bill will ban the use of electronic cigarettes in enclosed public spaces, as the Health Act 2006 bans smoking in such spaces across the UK.
Public Health England are advising that the use of e-cigs is 95% less harmful than smoking. Their announcement also stands against claims by the Welsh authorities they encourage young people to smoke. In my experience the opposite of this is true, smoking was a gateway to electronic cigarettes. They are in every way superior to tobacco, being cheaper, comparatively safer, available in any flavour you can imagine, and not causing you and everything you own to smell of smoke.
While in the opinion of this electronic smoker this news is wholly positive, it must be understood in the context of a wider climate of regulation and vested interests. The Tobacco Products Directive which was passed by the EU last year and will come into force in the UK in 2016 contains a multitude of heavy handed and ill thought out regulations. This will undoubtedly make it harder for smokers to quit.
It was feared that the EU, an organisation well known to prefer crony corporatism to the interests of the citizens of its member states, would classify e-cigs as medical devices and regulate them as such. While Brussels debated this legislation, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan rightly pointed out the EU’s hypocritical stance on smoking, backing anti-smoking programmes while simultaneously paying subsidies to tobacco farmers. CWF has long opposed excessive Government Regulation, in fact the third of our Nine Principles is deregulation.
Public Health England have done the right thing by backing electronic cigarettes. Regulation in this market will most likely lead to the premature deaths of many of smokers. This is a brave stance to take, opposing an unholy trinity of vested interests; big tobacco, big pharmaceuticals, and the ‘publicly minded experts’ in organisations like the BMA.
Public Health England embracing the fact that the free market is providing many smokers with a way out and potentially a longer life, where in many cases the state has failed them, is a good example of why the healthcare in Conservative England is better than in Labour run Wales.
Chris Rowell is a member of the CWF National Organising Committee and was the Campaign Manager for Andrea Jenkyns MP who defeated Labour’s Ed Balls.
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