While the federal government considers increased regulation for electronic cigarettes, the United Kingdom is moving in the opposite direction, calling for a change in national policy that sees e-cigarettes as an important tool for smoking cessation.
A report released by the Science and Technology Committee in Parliament last month found e-cigarettes "substantially less harmful" than conventional cigarettes. The report recommends relaxing regulation so that approval of e-cigarettes can be "streamlined" and asks policymakers to reconsider allowing their use in public places.
The report also found no evidence that vaping is a gateway to traditional cigarette smoking for teens.
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"Smoking remains a national health crisis and the Government should be considering innovative ways of reducing the smoking rate," said Norman Lamb, the chair of the Science and Technology Committee. "E-cigarettes are less harmful than conventional cigarettes, but current policy and regulations do not sufficiently reflect this and businesses, transport providers and public places should stop viewing conventional and e-cigarettes as one and the same. There is no public health rationale for doing so."
Lamb, a member of the Liberal Democrat party, said the National Health Service should use e-cigarettes for health promotion rather than demonize them.
"Concerns that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to conventional smoking, including for young nonsmokers, have not materialised," he said. "If used correctly, e-cigarettes could be a key weapon in the NHS's stop smoking arsenal."
Democrats in the United States have long seen e-cigarettes as an enemy, and quickly moved to regulate the products like conventional cigarettes. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg banned vaping indoors in 2014, and many blue states have followed.
The Obama administration issued a regulation that would have enforced strict regulations against e-cigarettes and cigars for the first time and required virtually all vaping companies to seek approval from the government to sell their products. The Food and Drug Administration delayed the rule last year.
Even still, the Trump administration's FDA is signaling an antagonistic stance to vaping, as it is currently considering banning flavored e-cigarette liquids and investigating the marketing practices of JUUL, the biggest vaping company in the country.
The FDA has been conducting a "nationwide blitz to crack down on the sale of e-cigarettes" to minors and convinced eBay to remove JUUL listings from its website.
The U.K. parliament report, however, found concerns about the dangers of e-cigarettes are unfounded, and while research should continue, the science committee recommended the government use vaping as a powerful smoking cessation tool.
"Against a background of contradictory national policies towards e-cigarettes and disagreement and apparent uncertainty over the health risks, we decided to examine the evidence on the health impacts and on e-cigarettes' role as a smoking cessation tool," the committee wrote in the report. "We received over 100 pieces of written evidence and held five oral evidence sessions between January and May 2018, hearing from 25 witnesses."
The committee concluded the evidence of vaping being an effective tool to help people quit far outweighed concerns with the products. The report found that 2.9 million people in the U.K. are currently using e-cigarettes to quit.
"Concerns about the risk of e-cigarettes potentially providing a ‘gateway' into conventional smoking, or that the variety and type of flavours could attract young nonsmokers in significant numbers, have not materialized," the report said.
Instead of additional regulation, the committee said government should figure out how approval of e-cigarettes could be "streamlined."
"Many businesses, public transport providers and other public places do not allow e-cigarettes in the same way that they prohibit conventional smoking. But, there is no public health (or indeed fire safety) rationale for treating use of the two products the same," the report said. "There is now a need for a wider debate on how e-cigarettes are to be dealt with in our public places, to help arrive at a solution which at least starts from the evidence rather than misconceptions about their health impacts."
The report found e-cigarettes are 95 percent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes.
The committee recommended e-cigarettes be taxed lower than regular cigarettes, and that advertising regulations be eased to allow e-cigarettes to be promoted as a "less harmful option."
"Further, it is calling for a reconsideration of: their use in public places; limits on refill strengths and tank sizes; and the approval systems for stop smoking therapies such as e-cigarettes," the committee said. "There should be a shift to a more risk-proportionate regulatory environment; where regulations, advertising rules and tax duties reflect the evidence of the relative harms of the various e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn and tobacco products available."