Misperceptions about vaping now at critical level

The IVVA recognise that experiences of vaping are unique to each person, but feels that a recent piece published by The Irish Mirror and lifestyle website DublinLive goes so far as to be promoting smoking over a product that is proven to be safer, and is proven to be effective in smokers cutting down or eliminating their smoking habit.

In the piece ”Vogue Williams: ‘I took up smoking again after I got addicted to vaping”’, there is a call for vaping products to be taxed in the upcoming budget, because Ms Williams, an Irish TV presenter who was a smoker who then switched to vaping, returned to smoking again because she found herself using her vapouriser more than she expected.

There is no robust case for applying an excise tax on a product that helps smokers get away from smoking. Keeping vaping cheaper than cigarettes acts as a further incentive for smokers to switch to these safer alternatives, beyond the more obvious incentive of the health benefits of not smoking. The liquids used by vapers in their devices is already subject to 23% VAT, a higher rate than some other nicotine products which have a low impact on smoking reduction.

Moreover, experts in tobacco control and public health do not agree with taxing vape products. Dr Patrick Doorley of ASH has previously indicated this in an interview on Today FM and tobacco control law expert and Ottowa University Associate Professor David Sweanor strongly advised against this in an Irish Times column last year. Earlier this year, in response to the European Commission’s proposed introduction of excise taxes on vape products, Cancer Research UK wrote that :

“Taxing e-cigarettes creates a barrier to smokers accessing them, especially poorer smokers, for whom smoking prevalence is much higher than the rest of the EU population. This would make it harder for them to access e-cigarettes to quit smoking. The goal of tobacco taxation is to reduce the prevalence of smoking and the wide range of serious diseases caused by combustible tobacco – since evidence indicates e-cigarettes are contributing to a reduction in smoking prevalence, they should not in our view be subject to additional taxation.”

A vaper finding themselves vaping more often than expected is a clear sign to those qualified that they are not getting enough nicotine to satisfy their cravings. When a smoker first switches to vaping from smoking, the level of nicotine they use is very important. Higher levels of nicotine make the transition to vaping easier. Too low a nicotine level, and they may use their device more to compensate. Therefore, the IVVA consider comments to smokers and vapers in the Irish Mirror article to be unqualified.

A visit to a reputable vape shop would have been able to help find the higher strength liquid needed and prevented a relapse to smoking. This advice is also contained in the UK’s NCSCT guidance to smoking cessation advisors, published in 2016 –

“How often should I use my e-cigarette to help me to stop smoking?

As often as you need to help manage nicotine withdrawal and urges to smoke. You will soon discover the best way for you of using your e-cigarette, and find that you’re using it when you feel a need to top-up. It’s not like a cigarette, which you would smoke from start to finish, with an e-cigarette you can sip on it once or twice, and then put it away. If you find you’ve got it in your mouth all the time, you might need to use a stronger e-liquid.”

There is currently somewhat of a crisis with public misperceptions that vaping isn’t any better for you than smoking. As more evidence emerges that vaping is a safer alternative to smoking, public perceptions of their relative safety are going in the wrong direction. According to Eurobarometer figures, between 2014 and 2017 the numbers of Irish people who wrongly believe that vaping is harmful or as harmful as smoking rose by 11%.

The IVVA’s view is that this is exacerbated by misleading messages that smokers and vapers receive through the media.

In England, the situation has warranted the public health and anti-smoking groups there tackling it through public information campaigns. The new Tobacco Control Plan for England also takes steps towards this.

The IVVA want to work with the government here to deliver a similar message to Irish smokers and we have written to the Department of Health and the Minister of State for Health Promotion on numerous occasions in relation to this.

In addition, current rules that place a cap on strengths of nicotine in liquids illustrate how counter-productive and unfit for purpose the regulations are. England has committed to reviewing these regulations to enure that vaping reach its full potential, and we urge the Department of Health here to do the same.

It is never safer to continue to smoke than to switch to vaping, so we wish Ms Williams well in her journey to becoming smoke free and we hope she finds what works for her. We also hope that smokers are not put off trying vaping, or that current vapers return to smoking, on the back of articles like these.