The health of an entire generation of young Brits could be under threat if the UK falls victim to a “moral panic” over vaping, a new report has warned.
Free market think tank the Adam Smith Institute (ASI) today urged the government to take a more liberal approach to e-cigarettes if it wants to achieve its aim of a smoke-free generation by 2030.
Regulators in the US have launched a crackdown on vaping products amid concerns about the potential health implications.
Vaping has been linked with a recent outbreak of lung illnesses and at least 34 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has discouraged the sale and use of e-cigarettes.
However, the ASI argued that the US health body’s response represented a “moral panic without scientific evidence”.
The report stated that the injuries and deaths were likely to have been caused by the use of unregulated black market products containing THC – the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. The CDC has acknowledged that THC products pose a particular risk.
Moreover, the think tank cited a “very strong correlation” between the reduction in UK smokers and the increase in vaping usage in recents.
Estimates from Public Health England suggest that vaping is 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco, while as many as 57,000 people in the UK have quit each year due to e-cigarettes.
But the ASI warned that Britain risked “going backwards” if it did not embrace vaping as a safer alternative to smoking.
“If the government is serious about public health they must take a liberal approach to harm reduction,” said Matthew Lesh, head of research at the ASI.
“This means combating misinformation about the harm of e-cigarettes and harnessing the potential of reduced-risk products such as heated tobacco and oral nicotine pouches.”
Opponents of vaping have warned that the products could be used as a so-called gateway into smoking, prompting non-smoking teens to take up tobacco products.
US vaping giant Juul has faced a backlash over concerns its advertising campaigns were targeted at young people, something the firm has denied.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has accused Juul of illegally marketing its products as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes, and could move to ban the company from the US market.
But the ASI played down fears about vaping’s role as a gateway product, arguing that young people in the UK were taking up traditional smoking at “alarming rates”, while relatively few opted for e-cigarettes.
The report outlined a series of recommendations for the government, including introducing a risk-based taxation scheme to incentivise switching and encouraging the NHS to promote tobacco harm reduction.
Campaign group Action on Smoking and Health said vaping was an “effective” way for smokers to quit, but warned the ASI’s recommendations were “more likely to increase profits for an already obscenely wealthy tobacco industry, than they are to reduce smoking”.
“In light of the health concerns around vaping emerging from the US, the best way to increase uptake is via a public information campaign sharing the message that vaping is always safer than smoking,” it said.
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