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Experts reject BMA stance on vaping

BMA policy may undermine stop smoking efforts

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 27 June 2016

Tobacco control experts have warned that the BMA’s policy on electronic (e) cigarettes may undermine efforts to persuade people to stop smoking.

At last week’s BMA annual conference held in Belfast, delegates voted for a motion that called for a ban on e-cigarettes in enclosed public places such as shops, bars, restaurants, museums and schools.

The argument was that such a ban on e-cigarettes would avoid the risk of “passive vaping” because there was some evidence of second-hand vaping, particularly at people’s homes and although use of the devices was around 95% safer than smoking tobacco, they still polluted the air with harmful chemicals.

In a letter published in The Times newspaper at the weekend, four leading tobacco control experts criticised the BMA’s stance, saying it could have a detrimental effect.

“The BMA’s motion to prohibit e-cigarette use in enclosed public places may undermine smokers’ attempts to quit,” said the letter, signed by Ann McNeill, professor of tobacco addiction at Kings College London, Linda Bauld, professor of health policy at University of Stirling, Peter Hajek, professor of clinical psychology at Queen Mary, University of London, and John Britton, professor of epidemiology at University of Nottingham.

“When we ended smoking in enclosed public places in Britain, this was on the very strong evidence of harm to bystanders. There is no comparable evidence of harm from e-cigarette exposure.

“Treating e-cigarette use and smoking similarly will foster the growing, mistaken and harmful impression that e-cigarettes are as dangerous as smoking, which deters smokers from using them.”

E-cigarettes were now the most popular form of smoking cessation tools in the UK, they added, and statistics showed that half of users of these devices were ex-smokers.

“The health community should maximise the chances that remaining smokers will quit also,” they concluded.

The BMA’s stance is also at odds with Public Health England, which recommends use of e-cigarettes for smokers trying to quit tobacco.  

During his keynote speech at the BMA’s annual conference, BMA council chair Mark Porter warned about the impact of cuts to public health budgets, including money for smoking cessation services.

“The government said it wouldn't cut health spending in real terms,” he told the conference. “But it took £200 million from the public health budget by saying that promise only applied to the NHS, having put public health outside it.

“We've looked into what that budget actually pays for. A successful smoking cessation service in the north-east is now under threat. In Brighton, the council says cuts to sexual health may lead to increased HIV prevalence. In Leicestershire, in Somerset, in east London, in Surrey and in Darlington, we have found similar stories. You can't trade a public health policy for an e-cigarette and crossed fingers.”

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