E-cigarettes — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:30 pm on 31st October 2019.

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Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons) 1:30 pm, 31st October 2019

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that. I will call him my hon. Friend, because I am demob-happy and I do not care about the normal rules. It has been a great pleasure to work with him on the Committee. I share his concern. Given that the Government’s own tobacco control plan describes tobacco as

“the deadliest commercially available product in England”,

one would have hoped that the body that runs the NHS in England would show a strong commitment to confronting that clear risk. Despite it being very clear from all the available evidence that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking, I none the less absolutely encourage continued research in this area. We should always be alert to anything that indicates a potential risk; that is exactly what our Committee recommends.

E-cigarettes are not only less harmful than smoking, but appear to be an effective tool for stopping smoking, as the hon. Gentleman made clear. A study published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine randomly assigned adults attending UK NHS stop smoking services either nicotine replacement products of their choice, including product combinations, for up to three months, or an e-cigarette starter pack. That study of 886 participants found that the one-year abstinence rate was 18% in the e-cigarette group, compared with 9.9% in the nicotine replacement group. That is a significant difference, and we need to make sure that we act on that difference now that we have knowledge of the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a stop smoking tool.

Results from a 2019 survey carried out by YouGov for Action on Smoking and Health—ASH—found that

“the three main reasons for vaping remain as an aid to quitting (22%)…preventing relapse (16%) and to save money (14%)”,

because people who vape spend much less money than people who smoke. That demonstrates that users perceive e-cigarettes as a stop smoking tool. E-cigarettes are therefore likely to help the Government to meet their ambition, announced in the prevention Green Paper, for England to be smoke-free by 2030. None the less, I accept that further research is needed on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a stop smoking tool. Will the Government or one of their agencies request further independent research on the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a stop smoking tool?

Our report highlights the issue of what the NHS does on smoking cessation. Cancer Research UK recently pointed out that primary care clinicians face barriers to discussing e-cigarettes with patients who smoke; one in three clinicians is unsure whether e-cigarettes are safe enough to recommend. Given the death toll from smoking, it is extraordinary that it appears that clinicians are unaware of the clear advice from Public Health England in that regard.