So today is National No Smoking Day – a day dedicated to encouraging people to make an extra special effort to give up smoking tobacco cigarettes, pipes, and cigars.
There are 10 million smokers in the UK and each and every year, according to figures produced by the NHS, 114,000 people die from a tobacco related illness. Policy makers and health campaigners need to focus on reducing this number. Conventional nicotine replacement therapies (NRT), with their failure rate of over 90 per cent, are not tackling this number, but e-cigarettes could. Already 1.3 million people in the UK have either quit or cut down the amount they smoke by switching to e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes represent a market-based, user-driven public health insurgency. No public money has been spent, yet smokers are switching, and cutting down through using e-cigarettes. A staggering 40,625 smokers are switching to e-cigarettes every month in the UK alone. This should be a cause for celebration, not concern. E-cigarette sales now outstrip those of NRT products.
As Professor John Britton from The Royal College of Physicians said, “If all the smokers in Britain stopped smoking cigarettes and started using e-cigarettes we would save five million deaths in people who are alive today. It’s a massive potential public health prize.”
Not our words, the words of Professor John Britton. So e-cigarettes are pretty amazing. It was therefore surprising to see that there is not one single mention of them on the official No Smoking Day website. The website goes into great detail about Stop Smoking services run by the NHS and encourages the use of NRT products, but no mention of the one product that offers smokers a viable alternative to tobacco cigarettes, and an alternative that is several magnitudes safer.
Professor Robert West, Professor of health psychology and director of tobacco studies, at University College London, said, “We have such a massive opportunity here. It would be a shame to let it slip away by being overly cautious. E-cigarettes are about as safe as you can get. We know about the health risks of nicotine. Nicotine is not what kills you when you smoke tobacco. E-cigarettes are probably about as safe as drinking coffee. All they contain is water vapour, nicotine, and propylene glycol (which is used to help vaporise the liquid nicotine).”
Whilst recognising the benefits of e-cigarettes some policy makers and health campaigners still have a number of concerns about them. Some believe that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to smoking tobacco cigarettes. Others worry that the wide variety of flavours makes them attractive to younger people who have previously never smoked.
These concerns, however, have been proven time and time again to have no foundation. Whilst these people focus all their efforts worrying about these mythical concerns and continue to promote services and products with a negligible success rate, they take their eye off the big picture – significantly reducing the number of people who smoke.
As Professor Gerry Stimson said, “We are only making small progress in further reducing the prevalence of cigarette smoking – encouraging current smokers to switch to e-cigarettes has the potential to speed up the process with consequent major public health gains.”
Is it too much to hope that by National No Smoking Day next year, policy makers and public health campaigners will have realised the amazing potential of e-cigarettes? Is it too much to hope that these people will stop pretending e-cigarettes do not exist or that they are somehow “dangerous”? Is it too much to hope that these people will engage constructively with vapers and try and understand that for the vast majority of smokers NRT just does not work? Perhaps it is, but on this National No Smoking Day, this campaign’s message to policy makers and public health campaigners is this: This is a crucial moment, a narrow window of opportunity. If wisely regulated, e-cigarettes can make tobacco cigarettes obsolete. The stakes are high, and we need to play it right. Please, please, please do not blow it by focussing all your energies on concerns that have no foundation.
 The Guardian newspaper 05 June 2013
 Open letter to ENVI Committee members form Professor Gerry Stimson 22 April 2013
 The Independent Newspaper, 29 March 2013