A crafty move by Mark Drakeford?

A lot has changed in the months since the Welsh Lib Dems started our fight against Labour’s illiberal vaping ban. Nine months, some rather tense Committee sessions, a hilariously embarrasing Government survey, plenty of emails to AMs and over 3,500 petition signatures later, we’ve succeeded in forcing Labour’s hand and watering down their original proposals.

 

Instead of a blanket ban in all enclosed public spaces in Wales, Mark Drakeford now only plans to ban vaping in a specific list of places. It seems that this list won’t form part of the legislation itself, however; it will instead be set out in regulations that will be passed separately to the Bill.

 

This is a crafty move on his part for two reasons. Firstly, it makes whatever list he comes up with much easier to change in the future. What may now include schools, public transport and establishments that serve food could be expanded much more widely with a lot less fuss than changing the law.

 

But secondly, and perhaps more crucially, this makes the entire Bill much easier to pass. Drakeford has said he needs to “work with others” to pass the Bill – those “others” I suspect are some Plaid Cymru AMs, who have been putting forward proposals very similar to what Labour now suggest.

 

The “others” certainly aren’t Welsh Liberal Democrats – we’ve been clear from the start in our opposition to these proposals. From a purely ideological perspective, as a liberal I’m uncomfortable with the idea of government banning something without clear evidence of the harm it could cause to others. But from looking at the evidence alone, it’s clear to me that the proposed vaping ban won’t just fail to improve public health – it could even lead to harm by preventing people from making the switch that many have made from tobacco cigarettes to the less harmful e-cigs.

 

It’s true that Welsh Liberal Democrats certainly couldn’t stomach any Bill that contained a vaping ban like the one we have in front of us. But the task of voting against this Bill is made a lot easier by the fact that, aside from some small changes to regulations around tattoos and piercings, this so-called “Public Health Bill” doesn’t actually achieve anything.

 

With so many public health issues facing our nation at the moment – obesity, cancer, heart disease to name but a few – is this Bill really the best that Labour can come up with? As it stands, the Bill does very little to solve any of these great public health challenges – and in the case of cancer, could even worsen the situation because of this vaping ban.

 

But we must not give up hope – there is still time to stop this ban in its tracks, but we all need to redouble our efforts in this fight. That’s why, as I write, we’re preparing campaign packs to send to vaping shops across Wales so they can do their bit in collecting petition signatures. If you haven’t yet added your name, you can do so by clicking here.

 

With your help, some determination and a bit of luck, I hope I’ll be writing on this blog in two months’ time in a Wales free of a vaping ban!

 

Kirsty Williams AM

Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

 

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Meetings with politicians 2 – There is gold in them there debating chambers.

Kirsty Williams

 

Today, on behalf of the Save E-cigs campaign, I was lucky enough to have a chat with one of the most vocal assembly members. If you didn’t know, Kirsty Williams AM, (Leader of the Welsh Lib Dems and Health Spokesperson) has been on the side of vapers ever since the proposals for banning vaping in “enclosed public spaces” came to light.

Rather than a meeting, this was more like a chat with a friend. I was the first appointment of the day and as Kirsty hadn’t had her coffee fix her assistant asked if she wanted a coffee and even asked if I wanted one. I gladly accepted tea to warm up my insides due the fridge-like temperatures outside. Once a bit of ice breaking chat was exchanged we got down to the nitty gritty of why I was there.

Instead of Kirsty asking the first question, I actually did. This was to find out her opinions on the Consultation Summary document 1 and it turns out that she hasn’t read it yet. This nicely led the discussion into full swing.

The main point of disappointment from my view point is that the Consultation “analysis” classified over half of the 412 responses as “not specified” due to them being a standard letter from Smokers Angel customers. This made me rather mad as each of these letters signed by individuals are still the opinion and should be counted. This came across in the answer figures from the questions, if these letters were considered as opposing the proposals; the change in weight of the answers would dramatically change. Kirsty completely agreed that this is a concern. It was like the opinion of voters just didn’t count and agreed that they were essentially ignored. She said that this will be brought up at the next possible moment.

We then went through more of the e-cig related consultation questions discussing Mark Drakeford’s flawed evidence. At this point her PA, said that they looked at some papers used by the vaping communities “favourite” scientist Mr Glantz. I then used the “kwik fit fitter” analogy or similar to describe most vapers opinion and they both laughed.

The conversation moved on about “gateway effects” to which the latest Office of National Statistics data2 on it came to the fore. Kirsty was not surprised with the data at all which is very positive for us. The ONS data will be used against Mark Drakeford.

Further conversation about “normalising smoking” was had and I offered information from presentations given at the E-cig Summit 2014 but without verbal context the slides were just slides. I then said that any useful presentation videos will be sent to her and she welcomed it.
More “evidence” in favour of the proposals was brought up by me including the private companies’ policies to ban the use of e-cigs. Kirsty thought it was rubbish. “When I am in a Wetherspoons I am subject to their own rules but it doesn’t mean they can tell me how to live my life. They can’t tell me what I can and can’t do” or words to that effect. This nicely led on to Mark Drakeford so-called “authoritative voice” the WHO. I went on to describe how the FCTC COP6 blocked out any media etc. but then related it to Deborah Arnott’s presentation at the summit which I will also send her just because it will confirm why vapers aren’t too keen on the WHO.

Finally, I directed the conversation towards how policy should be made which completely echoed Ian Gray and Hazel Cheeseman who did a presentation on policy making for work places at the E-cig Summit 2014. Kirsty and I agreed that this is how it should be done rather than national legislation. Again the videos of the presentation will be sent to Kirsty.

Lastly she asked what she and the Welsh Lib Dems could do for me and the Save E-cigs campaign. This next bit is the gold I mention in the title. As I knew she was on the Health & Social Care Committee, I asked if there was a way to have a face to face meeting with all the members which includes Kirsty, Darren Millar AM (Welsh Cons, who supports us), Elin Jones AM (Plaid Cymru, who Rob Heyes spoke with earlier this month) amongst others. She informed me that the HSC Committee will have their own consultation on the White Paper Bill. She then said that myself and my colleagues in the Save E-cigs campaign will be allowed to submit written and oral evidence to the Committee. There may even be the opportunity for the Committee to hear from independent experts as well. This is brilliant!

Finally, she insisted that we met with all AMs as we cannot assume that there is 100% agreement within each of the parties. This is why Save E-cigs and vapers like me are doing these meetings. Vapers across Wales can help us by meeting with their local AMs. By convincing AMs in face to face meetings we can build a majority in the Assembly to defeat these proposals. Come on vapers of Wales, do your bit!

1] http://wales.gov.uk/docs/phhs/consultation/140402consultationen.pdf 

2] http://www.bbc.com/news/health-30192181

Let’s start with the good news….

Another response to Welsh Health Minister Mark Drakeford and his lack of evidence.

Let’s start with the good news. There are at least 100,000 vapers in Wales, which has mainly grown over the last 2 years. A vaper is simply someone who uses an e-cigarette. These people are now smoking fewer or no cigarettes. With 5,000 people dying every year in Wales from smoking related illnesses according to the Welsh NHS, this should be a cause for celebration not concern.

Recently published figures from the Welsh Health Survey has shown a fall of 2% in the proportion of people who smoke. Given that the Welsh population currently sits at around 3.5 million, 2% of that number works out at approximately 70,000. Given that there are 100,000 vapers in Wales, could not a large proportion of that smoking reduction be attributed to the rise of e-cigarette use ?

Now onto the bad news: the Welsh Government’s proposal to ban the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public spaces, substantially enclosed public places, and places of work.

Health Minister Mr Drakeford, whilst recognising the benefits of e-cigarettes stated in his recent article that he has a number of concerns regarding their use in public. These concerns include e-cigarettes undermining the current smoking ban, contributing to a renormalisation of smoking, being a gateway product, and being targeted at children.

These concerns would be perfectly valid if they had any foundation or evidence base, but they do not. In fact the available evidence points to the contrary.

The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health stated that there is a 99.7 per cent compliance rate with the smoking ban[1], and there is no evidence to support the idea that the use of e-cigarettes in public is undermining this. Yes, some companies have introduced a vaping ban, but we are seeing a growing number of such companies reversing these bans. Recently, Cambridgeshire Police, following a review of “health fears”, decided to allow their officers to vape at work[2].

Leading Pubco Enterprise Inns have recently reversed their ban on e-cigarettes in their licensed premises. In a further move, Enterprise Inns has signed a new supply deal for its tenants to stock and sell Nicolites e-cigarettes which will form part of their open welcome to the vaping community.

There is no evidence that e-cigarette use in public leads to a renormalisation of smoking either. Professor Robert West, Professor of Health Psychology and Director of Tobacco Studies at University College London’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, following his latest research concluded:“Despite claims that electronic cigarettes risk re-normalising smoking, we found no evidence to support this.”[3]

When it comes to concerns about e-cigarettes being a gateway product and their use amongst children, of course experts need to monitor this, but all the evidence to date shows that we have nothing to worry about.

To justify his concerns, Mr Drakeford cited a study produced by John Moores University, yet this study actually concludes that ‘Overall seven out of eight young people had never accessed e-cigarettes’. Recent research produced by ASH also shows that e-cigarettes are not a gateway to smoking[4]. Furthermore, the survey found that regular use of e-cigarettes amongst children is rare and confined almost entirely to those who are currently or have previously smoked[5]. Research undertaken by Queen Mary University[6] found that a child trying a tobacco cigarette for the first time is 50 per cent likely to become a regular smoker. The same research found no evidence that a child trying an e-cigarette for the first time goes on to become a regular vaper. Thankfully the Welsh Government has introduced a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18s, a move that we fully support!

The ban on smoking in enclosed public places was introduced to benefit the health of non-smokers whose health was put at risk as a result of being in close proximity to smokers. Therefore any proposal to include e-cigarettes within this ban must also be to protect the health of non-vapers.

Is passive vaping dangerous? A major scientific study undertaken by Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos (Researcher, Onassis Cardiac Surgery Centre, Greece, University Hospital Gathuisberg, Belgium) and Professor Riccardo Polosa (Director of the Institute for Internal Medicine and Clinical Immunology of the University of Catania, Italy) concluded that the ‘effects of e-cigarette use on by-standers are minimal compared with conventional cigarettes.’[7]

In his article, Mr Drakeford stated that this proposal was rather minor and that it would have no impact on the e-cigarette industry or vapers. However, in Spain where a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in public places has been introduced, there has been a 70 per cent fall in the number of vapers and a 60 per cent decrease in the number of vaping shops[8]. People that had made the switch to e-cigarettes are unfortunately now smoking again.

If the Welsh Government succeeds in banning e-cigarettes in public places, they will be forcing vapers to vape alongside smokers and exposing them to the dangers of second-hand smoke. We are in contact with vapers on a daily basis and many have said such a ban would simply force them back to smoking. Is this really what the Welsh Government wants?

A recent open letter to the World Health Organisation was signed by no less than 53 of the leading scientists in nicotine and public health policy. The open letter appealed directly the WHO to adopt a positive, proportionate and rational approach to products that provide very low-risk alternatives to smoking – products such as e-cigarettes. It called upon the WHO to recognise that this approach, tobacco harm reduction, as an important part of the solution offering great promise for public health, and not part of the problem.

In a recent BBC[9] poll 62 per cent of the public said e-cigarettes should not be banned in public and Professor John Briton from the Royal College of Physicians has 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.”[10]

The rise of e-cigarette sales is directly contributing to a decline in cigarettes sales. In the words of Professor Robert West: “What is the problem that requires further regulation?”[11] What public health gain does the Welsh Government hope to achieve with this proposal?

With a ban on the advertising of e-cigarettes soon to be introduced, following the passing of the Tobacco Products Directive, where are smokers to find out about e-cigarettes, particularly if they are banned in public? Smokers need to see people using e-cigarettes in public, they need to be able to go up and speak to e-cigarette users so that they can find out further information and then hopefully make the switch to a safer alternative.

In its approach the Welsh Government are going against the precautionary principle as it was originally intended, they are trying to mitigate for a risk that has yet to be proven and in doing so may do more harm than good.

 

 

[1] Meeting of the All-Party Groups on Smoking and Health, Pharmacy, and Heart Disease 10 June 2014

[2] http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Cambridge/Police-in-Cambridgeshire-can-smoke-e-cigarettes-after-health-review-but-they-are-banned-on-our-trains-20130821131920.htm

[3] http://metro.co.uk/2014/04/27/e-cigs-cleared-of-being-route-into-smoking-4710734/

[4] http://metro.co.uk/2014/04/27/e-cigs-cleared-of-being-route-into-smoking-4710734/

[5] http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_891.pdf

[6] Research undertaken by Professor Peter Hajek, Director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London

[7] Safety evaluation and risk assessment of electronic cigarettes as tobacco cigarette substitutes: a systematic review:

Konstantinos E. Farsalinos and Riccardo Polosa

published online 13 February 2014 Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety

[8] http://www.thinkspain.com/news-spain/24345/e-cigarette-sales-in-spain-drop-by-70-per-cent

[9] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24909648

[10] The Independent Newspaper, 29 March 2013

[11] Professor Robert West speaking at the E-cigarette Summit, The Royal Society, London on the 12th of November 2013.