Over the last few years, no official government body in the world has endorsed vaping like Public Health England has.
With grace and integrity the organisation, and the people at its helm, have countered misinformation. For example, when the lung disease EVALI was wrongly attributed to nicotine vaping (it was actually caused by the use of illegal cannabis in the USA), PHE was quick to point out the strict regulations that protect vapers in the UK.
They’ve promoted research into vaping, and, following that research, the benefits of vaping – reiterating again and again that it is 95% less harmful than smoking.
Under PHE’s watch, the UK has become a world leader in quality standards and vaping safety, and has had a strong influence on other countries such as New Zealand and Canada.
They’ve done all that despite the political risk involved. Like all disruptive industries, vaping has many powerful enemies, and supporting vaping involves taking a lot of flack.
PHE’s support of e-cigarettes, of course, was not borne from a love of vaping itself, but a commitment to harm reduction and to tackling smoking rates.
As we wrote last year, the body wishes to effectively eliminate smoking in England by 2030.
Many anti-smoking organisations say this, of course, but with the way smoking rates are falling in England, the organisation looked as if it might actually meet its goal.
In 2012, as vaping started to take off, 20% of the population, or 1 in 5 people, smoked.
As of 2019, that had shrunk to less than 14% of the population – and by all accounts smoking rates are continuing to fall rapidly in 2020.
It’s an achievement matched by few countries elsewhere in the world.
The body now looks set to be dissolved. Some of its responsibilities will be shifted to a new body, the National Institute for Health Protection, although it’s not yet clear who will take over responsibility for reducing smoking rates. It’s also not clear what the impact will be on attitudes towards vaping.
One thing’s for sure, though – PHE, and especially those who have worked with vaping and tobacco harm reduction, will be sorely missed by both vaping advocates and the vaping industry.