This week saw Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford succeed in pushing through a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in public places. This ban – justified not on public health grounds but because of dogmatic thinking on normalising the practice of vaping – covers zoos, cinemas, school grounds, hospital car parks, public play grounds, sports grounds, swimming pools, theatres and libraries, among many public places.
The irony of this backward move coming on No Smoking Day – especially given Wales’s goal of reducing smoking rates to 16% by 2020 – is not lost on commentators from across the media and political sphere. It is especially surprising given the recent publication of a paper by academics at University College London (UCL) which showed that e-cigarettes are now the most popular form of support to stop smoking, overtaking nicotine gum and skin patches. Last year’s Public Health England report also clearly showed that vaping was 95% less harmful than smoking cigarettes. What is more, it is clear that forcing vapers outdoors exposes them to second-hand tobacco smoke, which endangers their health – and indeed the public health community has already concluded that there is no safe level of second-hand smoke.
Hon Lik, inventor of the electronic cigarette, wrote personally to Welsh politicians last week, stating that: “I’m very proud that thanks to e-cigarettes, my invention, millions of smokers have managed to either cut their consumption significantly or stop smoking completely. I believe that e-cigarettes are a key component in a harm reduction approach to cutting smoking rates. Banning their use in public places is wrong. It sends a contradictory message at a time when authorities have clearly stated that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking.”
Speaking about the ban today, Marc Michelsen, Senior Vice President Communications & Corporate Affairs, said: “There is an increasingly broad consensus in the public health community that e-cigarettes are not only less harmful than cigarettes and have no significant impact on air quality, but are also promoted by an increasing number of stop smoking services as an alternative to tobacco. By banning vaping in public places, Mark Drakeford is essentially telling Welsh smokers not to switch to e-cigarettes – and telling vapers to go back to tobacco. This flies in the face of science and common sense. Surely even Mr. Drakeford can see the irony in this.”