We already know the benefits to a smoker when they leave smoking behind; vapers are keen to tell us the benefits they accrue. Empowering smokers to transition to these safer products is a huge source of pride for those of us who work in the independent vape industry.
A myriad of studies, evidence reviews and now, replications of previous flawed research, all reinforce that vaping is far safer compared to smoking. The research by institutions such as the Royal College of Physicians, London, Public Health England, St Andrews University in Scotland, Cancer Research UK and many others continue to inform just how much safer. Long term studies by Professor Riccardo Polosa’s team at the University of Catania in Italy even found that smokers with asthma and COPD can reverse the harms caused by their smoking once they switch to vaping. This is all very good news.
However, with all of this international evidence available and even as more is emerging, public perceptions and policy seems to be heading in the opposite direction to what one would expect. Here in Ireland, the number of people who wrongly believe that vaping is more dangerous or as dangerous as smoking has risen - not fallen - in the last 3 years.
A Health Technology Assessment carried out by HIQA earlier this year reported that if more smokers were to switch to vaping and the rates of switching was similar to the UK’s, there would be both a public health gain and an economic gain for the state. The cost of smoking and cessation is a timely one for Ireland to consider, as we enter a new phase of looking at how best to spend public resources.
But if your main source of information about vaping is news and online media, you could be forgiven for being confused about the benefits or buying into the false idea that vaping is a problem, not a solution. Negligible or tenuous risks are seized upon and blown out of proportion, resulting in alarming headlines. This is causing a lack of clarity in how vaping is perceived and poses a threat to getting the right policies in place.
So is Ireland doing enough to counter the misperceptions that surround vaping and utilising this innovation to its full potential? Given that our approach does not seem to bear the same results as our nearest neighbours England, it doesn’t seem that we are.
Does Ireland have the right policies in place to allow vaping do its job? Are smokers, vapers and the independent businesses who serve them adequately considered in policy making? Do vape shops have enough tools at their disposal to enable smokers make the switch, or do the current regulations make vaping less attractive? And perhaps most importantly, is part of the problem the fact that almost 8 years after vaping was first brought to the Irish market, there has never been a platform that brings policy makers, consumers, regulators and businesses together?
Different voices in the debate that surrounds vaping have been allocated different ‘’sides’’ in media pieces, but could there in fact be fewer “sides” and in reality more consensus on what policies which promote public health might look like? If the different stakeholders came together what could we learn from each other and what might we agree on? And what lessons or pitfalls might we learn from countries which take a different approach to Ireland?
Next month, on the 24th of October, a satellite event of the Global Forum on Nicotine, GFN Dialogues, will take place in Dublin. The theme of the event is ‘’Understanding vaping : Basic Questions’’. Policy makers, researchers, public health organisations, scientists, vapers and business owners will gather, hopefully answer some of these questions, and engage with what promises to be an interesting and constructive afternoon. We hope to see you there.