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Beating tobacco starts with going easy on vaping

Stopping smoking has always been a bit of a drag. White-knuckle determination to resist the need to smoke is accompanied by a bewildering variety of inhalers, gums, sprays, patches, tablets and counselling, much of which is associated with modest success and some of which has serious adverse side-effects.

Stopping smoking remains a global health priority since it is still the leading cause of premature death and serious ill health. With the advent of e-cigarettes, quitting smoking has become fun as smokers discover a world of user-modifiable e-cigarette kits and a limitless range of flavours. In a survey of more than 22,000 vapers carried out by researchers in Glasgow, smokers typically started vaping with high-nicotine, tobacco-flavoured e-liquids before progressing to zero-nicotine fruit flavours as they moved further away from the world of smoking.

Although they have helped millions to turn their back on tobacco, e-cigarettes have attracted controversy due to fears that they may attract non-smokers and lead to renormalisation of smoking. Government bodies in Europe and the United States are imposing restrictive regulations on e-cigarette production, sales and use that will limit the range of flavours and reduce access to the modifiable e-cigarette kits that vapers seem to enjoy.

At a World Health Organisation meeting in Delhi this month on tobacco control, delegates were asked to support a worldwide ban on e-cigarettes. Here in the UK, the appetite for regulation is enormous. Almost all council areas within the UK already maintain a ban on the use of e-cigarettes at work, leaving vapers to stand in the cold.

With Brexit, the UK has the opportunity to develop regulations governing e-cigarettes that can ensure that these devices remain widely available for smokers at the same time as their appeal to non-smokers is minimised.

Flavours are important, as are retaining the user-modifiable e-cigarette tanks that allow users to produce the voluminous vaper clouds that have become so characteristic of these devices.

We need to discourage e-cigarette use by non-smokers, not by forcing people to vape in hiding but by recognising what this technology is achieving in saving smokers’ lives.

Dr Neil McKeganey is director of the Centre for Substance Use Research in Glasgow

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