For decades, politicians devoted countless resources to fight against smoking. In many European countries, we’ve seen tax hike after tax hike, more extensive cigarette warnings, stricter advertisement bans, and endless anti-smoking campaigns.
Without a doubt, efforts to reduce smoking-induced illnesses are needed, but European decision-makers seem to forget the most important question: do these measures work? We need to start judging these actions based on their results. Suffice to say, they are not impressive.
Obviously, vaping is not without risks, but time and time again, science has proven that it is much less harmful than smoking, and it helps people quit.
According to the EU Commission, 700,000 people die yearly from smoking related illnesses. Over 50% of smokers die prematurely, and despite all efforts made by authorities, 26% of the overall population are still smoking. Confronted with these results, the logical response would be to question these measures, but politicians rarely question their own decisions and admit they got it wrong.
Today, we have many alternatives to wishful thinking and heavy handed, counterproductive regulations and prohibition. Consumers have come up with other options and technologies, such as vaping. Snus has been on the market for decades in Sweden, and recently nicotine pouches have emerged. Each are much less harmful than compared to smoking. And the difference to old school anti-smoking measures? These are actually working. People like these products, allowing them to quit smoking and, simultaneously, reduce their health risks.
At the very minimum, EU decision-makers should listen to their own research. The latest Eurobarometer report on “Attitudes of Europeans towards tobacco and electronic cigarettes” found that the majority of respondents use electronic cigarettes to quit smoking (57%) or because they (rightly) believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking (37%). Crucially, in the year when the survey was taken, more people were successful in entirely quitting smoking or reducing smoking because of vaping, than compared to three years earlier. 31% were able to quit due to the use of e-cigarettes, and another 27% reduced smoking, doublling the numbers from three years ago. These figures are impressive compared to 95% of failed quitting attempts without cessation aids or other help.
Obviously, vaping is not without risks, but time and time again, science has proven that it is much less harmful than smoking, and it helps people quit. So, what should the appropriate response look like for the EU?
Europe doesn’t need to look further than the UK. A consumer-friendly regulatory framework for vaping and political support has reduced smoking rates by 25% since 2013 (when vaping became popular), allowing the country to hit an all-time low in smoking rates. Now, the UK has set a target to become smoke-free by 2030, and the recommendation is to further support vaping to achieve this goal. The government will “provide accurate information to healthcare professionals about the benefits of vaping” and to “promote vaping as a substitute for smoking and offer free “swap to stop” vapes to help smokers quit” as stated in The Khan review, commissioned by the UK’s Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP.
With the Tobacco Products Directive update, the EU must finally embrace harm reduction and support vaping to see similar successes across the bloc. Rather than entertain flavour bans or higher taxation for vaping, smokers must be informed about the benefits of vaping and be actively encouraged to switch.
With a similarly ambitious regulatory framework to the UK’s, 19 million people in the EU could switch from smoking to vaping. 700,000 deaths should be reason enough to question the current approach.