I believe that the Welsh Labour Government’s plan to make using an e-cigarette in an enclosed public space illegal is wholly wrong.
The e-cigarette ban will mean that vaping is treated exactly like smoking tobacco under the law. The Government risk stigmatising a new product that is helping many people reduce the amount they smoke and even give up altogether.
I have to declare a personal interest in this issue: I vape myself. I had previously been using lozenges to help me stop smoking, and had been for a long time. It was worry about the effect they were having on my teeth that prompted me to look into alternatives.
A huge amount of the growth in popularity of e-cigarettes has been fuelled by word-of-mouth. I was attending a conference and noticed two women sitting on the next sofa in the hotel lobby vaping. We fell into conversation about it and it was on their recommendation that I then went into an e-cigarette shop to get advice from them. If the Public Health (Wales) Bill passes in its current form, I would not have been able to talk to those women and the e-cigarette shop would not have been allowed to demonstrate their products to customers like me to show us how they work. I may never have discovered that e-cigarettes are, for me, a device that is incredibly successful in helping me continue not to smoke in the long-term.
If you’re a smoker, one advantage of a cigarette is that it’s a highly reliable way to deliver the nicotine fix you need. As long as you have a lighter, you can be pretty sure that your cigarette won’t fail. If you plan to use an e-cig to help you give up, you need reassurance that the device is similarly reliable and unless you’ve had a conversation and a demonstration of how they work, you’re unlikely to have faith in their reliability. Making e-cigarettes less visible and more difficult to get hold of will not promote public health. Far from the Government’s concerns that e-cigarettes normalise smoking, in my experience, seeing people vaping normalises the use of an effective tool to help you give up.
I admit that e-cigarettes are so new that little is known yet about the long-term impact they may have on health. I think it is important to remain sceptical about manufacturers’ claims that you can put a numerical value on exactly how much better for your health they are than smoking. We just don’t know yet. But Government policy should be based on evidence and so far there is no evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes are anything like as dangerous as smoking and plenty of evidence to show that they help people quit.
Of course, there are many places where you might want to restrict e-cigarette use. They are not appropriate everywhere. Some restaurants already stop their customers vaping inside and they should be free to do so. But to treat e-cigarettes exactly like tobacco, to make it an illegal offence to vape in a public place, is an entirely wrong-headed policy and totally out of line with people’s lived experiences. It shows a complete lack of understanding of the psychology of addiction and smoking. On this issue, the Health Minister is completely out of touch.
The ban on e-cig use is not something that should be snuck into a Bill on an unrelated topic, this is something that should stand alone. If Welsh Labour are committed to banning e-cigarettes, then they should put it in their manifesto and wait until after the election when they have a mandate from the electorate to act.
Finally, and this is a pretty radical question to ask, I wonder why we tolerate tobacco use at all anymore? We know how damaging tobacco is for public health, why not ban smoking altogether? We could encourage everyone to move to e-cigarettes instead. The Health Minister seems to be using e-cigs as his own tobacco substitute, banning them rather than banning cigarettes as perhaps he’d really like to.
The Welsh Labour Government’s knee-jerk reaction to a new technology that is helping many more people give up smoking is an unpopular mistake. I will be pressing the Health Minister to reconsider.
Note from the Editor:
A few people were concerned about Jocelyn’s comment re banning smoking. To clarify,, Jocelyn is not advocating a tobacco ban, she is merely speculating about the health minister’s reasons for a vape ban, and is making the point that vaping seems to his substitute for tobacco.