Smoking: E-Cigarettes — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 3 February 2015.

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Photo of Viscount Ridley Viscount Ridley Conservative 2:45, 3 February 2015

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will consider encouraging rather than discouraging the spread of vaping, in the light of the Cochrane review of e-cigarettes published on 17 December 2014 which found that e-cigarettes were more effective as an aid to quitting smoking than any other method.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, we recognise that e-cigarettes are being used by some smokers to help them cut down, or quit, tobacco. That is why the Government are already working towards a regulatory framework that ensures that they meet basic quality standards and are accompanied by sufficient information to enable informed choices. However, we would not wish to see children taking up vaping, as nicotine is a highly addictive substance. That is why we are also introducing a minimum age of sale for these products.

Photo of Viscount Ridley Viscount Ridley Conservative

I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer, but I hope that I can lure him into going just a little bit further. Given that 2 million people are vaping in this country, including a number of Members of your Lordships’ House, that 99% of them are smokers or ex-smokers and that the NHS says that vaping is 1,000 times safer than smoking and probably no more dangerous or addictive than coffee, does he therefore agree with me that it might be worth asking the Chief Medical Officer to look into how we can encourage this technology, given that it has a chance to do what patches, bans, health warnings and taxes have failed to do over decades, which is at last to consign the cigarette to the ashtray of history?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, e-cigarettes are undoubtedly helpful to some people in enabling them to cut down on, or quit, smoking. The evidence is encouraging and we would not want to stop smokers trying out e-cigarettes as an alternative, particularly if other remedies have failed. Equally, we need to be cautious as regards the long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes. That is why the Chief Medical Officer is currently not able to recommend their use.

Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, does the noble Earl agree that the noble Viscount is perhaps guilty of a little bit of journalistic licence on this issue? The Cochrane review undoubtedly produces encouraging results, but its research contains a big “but”, in that it cautions that only two studies, covering just over 600 smokers, were reflected in the review. The Cochrane review says that we should await the outcome of further studies. Does the noble Earl agree, and can he inform the House when we are likely to see the outcome of those further studies?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. The Cochrane review concluded that the quality of the evidence overall is low because it is based on only a small number of studies. The National Institute for Health Research has recently commissioned a large randomised control trial to examine the efficacy of e-cigarettes compared with nicotine replacement therapy when used within the UK’s stop smoking services. That project is due to end in 2018 and will certainly improve our current understanding.

Photo of Lord Rennard Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that we need a public health education campaign to persuade people that there are absolutely no health benefits whatever, or indeed any merit, in becoming addicted to nicotine, and that the promotion of devices such as e-cigarettes should be purely for the purposes of encouraging people to be weaned off their addiction to tobacco with nicotine, as tobacco is still killing nearly 300 people every day in this country?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

My noble friend is absolutely right. I hope that message will come through loud and clear from the measures the Government are taking to ban smoking in private cars when children are present, to introduce standardised tobacco packaging and to prohibit proxy purchasing of tobacco.

Photo of Lord Cunningham of Felling Lord Cunningham of Felling Labour

My Lords, is the noble Earl satisfied that e-cigarettes are tamper-proof and that what they contain cannot be substituted for other more dangerous substances?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The noble Lord makes an extremely important point. It is one that is addressed in the tobacco products directive, which is due to come into force next year. The EU Commission is clear that any e-cigarettes sold need to be tamper-proof, particularly as regards children interfering with the contents.

Photo of Lord Patel Lord Patel Crossbench

My Lords, it is good to know that the National Institute for Health Research would support a larger randomised study, but what the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said is true. The current evidence from the Cochrane analysis—the most robust method we know of analysing whether a product, device or a drug is effective against the desired outcome—is that, although the studies were small, 14 observational studies and two randomised trials show that e-cigarettes are more effective than nicotine patches or a placebo. Would the Minister agree that the industry should now also address a standard dosage of nicotine and ensure that the quality of the nicotine used in e-cigarettes is standardised across the industry to avoid subsequent risks?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The noble Lord makes some important ports. He has highlighted the fact that many products on sale are of, shall we say, variable quality. There are risks around the extent to which the dose of nicotine delivered varies; the quality of the ingredients can be suspect; and there is a question mark over the electrical safety of some products. We cannot make a general statement about products that are currently on sale. Nevertheless, it is right that the European Union has taken this matter in hand. From May 2016, only licensed e-cigarettes will be able to contain nicotine in strengths greater than 20 milligrams per millilitre. That will introduce some standardisation.

Photo of Earl Cathcart Earl Cathcart Conservative

My Lords, I started smoking before I was a teenager and in recent years smoked up to 50 cigarettes a day—not good for me. I started vaping in July and I have not had or wanted a puff of tobacco since. In spite of trying to give up on countless occasions, only these vaping e-cigarettes have actually helped me kick the habit. Surely that has to be a good thing. Should we not encourage it to help not just me, but the hundreds of thousands or millions of people who want to give up smoking?

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

May I congratulate my noble friend on his achievement? As I have indicated, the advice given by the NHS is that, particularly where other remedies have failed, e-cigarettes may have a place where the person wants to quit. It is true that, while levels of toxicants are present in electronic cigarette liquids and vapour, they are very much lower than those found in conventional cigarette smoke. They are not considered to pose any significant passive inhalation risk.