VICE Probes British Anomaly

Published by Paul Larter on 4th Nov 2019

Alex Norcia, the vice reporter, looked at why the American Lung outbreak has not caused the UK to collapse into a panic. Norcia spoke to Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction report author Harry Spapiro, Youtuber Matt Culley, American Professor Brad Rodu and a New Nicotine Alliance Trustee.

Norcia starts by contrasting the hospitals of America and Britain. While the West Birmingham Trust and the Sandwell have allowed vape stores to open around hospital premises in the U.S, Matt Culley said it’s crazy.

Dave Cross, writer for the Planet of the Vapes news and a Trustee of the New Nicotine Alliance charity, posed these three questions:

1. In your view, why did the "vaping crisis" fail to spread to the United Kingdom as it has the United States? How did it all develop so contrarily? I understand there are far more rules — which, of course, please expand on — but I'm curious if there is a broader, cultural element to point to as well? (The fact that the country has vape shops attached to hospitals is particularly jarring when compared to what is happening to them in the United States.)

There is no record of any lipoid pneumonia-like case in the U.K. hospital due to the use of THC products. This in itself, shows the clear fact that the product in the U.S is an illegal product sourced on the black market. This should have given the prohibitionists the thought that one of the outcomes of their bans will be vapers sourcing legal products on the black market.

Take, for instance, in the 1980s; about 1,000 people did in Spain from a batch of toxin contaminated olive oil. Besides, 25,000 people were seriously injured, and some ended up with lifelong disabilities. Nobody called for a ban on olive oil because it was recognized as olive oil. The U.K. views the lung outbreaks in the U.S. as serious and sad, but the emphasis that this is an acute outbreak, it is not due to chronic vaping over many years. It is something from some substances in a few numbers of the product as recently said by the chief executive of ASH UK.

It begins with this: we do not call vaping a tobacco product because it does not contain tobacco. Calling it a tobacco product is deceitful. People put up their ignorance so that all will see when they continuously state vaping as “smoking an e-cig”.

Where we vary most strongly is that we have some outstanding people at Public Health England (PHE) and politicians who are committed to evidence-based decision making and legislation. We also have our charities who speak out on smoking matters. They cherished the fact that vaping is safer than smoking. They observed at the evidence with open minds and listened to genuine experts.

There is a good working relationship between the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA UK) and independent charity, which helped decision-makers to know every stage in vaping. They were invited to present evidence to government committees. United States government can emulate from them and work with American Consumer groups. NNA formed alliances with international consumer groups to share information, resources and coordinate tactics. Recently, there is the formation of European Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (ETHRA), as a way of influencing the next restatement of European vape legislation.

I feel that there is a historical affinity for harm reduction rooted in the United Kingdom's psyche. PHE made it loud and clear that if you are smoking, consider swapping if you don't smoke, don't start. Though we work within the Tobacco Products Directive constituted at the European level, we enjoy greater support from our legislators than other nearby countries despite that some people may still argue that the current framework is too restrictive.

2. Do you think the US is too late to learn from the UK? Do you also fear other countries, like India and China, which have already approved a pretty prohibitionist stance, will copy the US, instead of the UK?

To be honest, I don’t think there is will from the political and public health body level to accept the errors in the judgment that have been made. They should have had sensible legislation governing the manufacture, sale, and distribution. They should also have called out the paid-for studies and denounced the claims of "epidemics" and other trash that exists through partial data manipulation. Permit me to paraphrase here what New York's governor Cuomo said recently along the lines: "Vaping is safer than Smoking? Yes…but so what?” There is no glimpse of hope that making a statement as this is going to reverse his position.

A good number of us foretold in January that this would be the year vaping all but died in the U.S. and sadly, we were correct. I think it will bounce back because truth has to win out. It is distinctly clear with evidence that vaping is safer, it occurs to support the efficacy of vaping as a quit tool to smoking. It highlights the plain fact that teens who vape used to or are still smoking. Some people talk about the rate of increase without remembering that if it was a low number to start with, it is not that bad. Additionally, the main smoking is decreasing, which means lives have been saved.

You talked about countries like China and India that have total interest in protecting income from tobacco as having the same fashion as with the United States and the TMSA. This is corruption, it is clear, and we see it happening. The two countries have nationalized or semi-nationalized tobacco industries. The biggest manufacturer of cigarettes in the world is China.

I believe some people oppose vaping because they truly believe they are correct. There is no crime to have a personal opinion. That is their opinion, and we welcome them, but they cannot invent their facts.

3. Additionally: Do you fear that policy in the UK might be affected by the seemingly knee-jerk reaction in the US?

I do not consider there is a distant chance of banning flavours. The government, Public Health England, ASH UK, the forefront anti-smoking body and the Royal Colleges support the role of vaping in tobacco harm reduction. There is also support from the British Heart Foundation. There are vape stores open in public hospitals and a legitimate tax-paying industry acting sensibly.

The U.K. recently celebrated the number of new vapers increasing and the current drastic drop in smoking rates. Vaping is working here as it supposed to work around the world had it been they have given a chance. There is nobody that is going to take it away from us.