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A review commissioned by the Department of Health is expected to recommend promoting e-cigarettes as a less harmful alternative for existing smokers, when it reports later this month. Health Secretary Sajid Javid appointed former Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan to lead the inquiry in February. Ministers want to make England “smoke free”, defined as fewer than one in 20 people smoking, by the end of the decade.
E-cigarettes heat up a liquid containing nicotine, which is then inhaled. They are considered to be less harmful than traditional cigarettes and the British Medical Association has suggested they should be licensed as medicine, which would allow doctors to recommend them to smokers trying to quit.
Mr Khan said: “In my review I have considered a range of critical interventions that will make the most difference. For example, I’ve looked at the promotion of vaping as a less harmful alternative; a greater role for the NHS in ending smoking and the need to tackle illicit tobacco sales”
He added: “Tobacco is the single largest cause of preventable illness and death, with a quarter of deaths from all cancers estimated to be from smoking in 2019.
“Despite national progress such as the ban on indoor smoking implemented in 2007, smoking remains very high in certain parts of the country – particularly in poorer areas.”
“I have been tasked by the Health and Social Care Secretary to help the government achieve its ambition to be smokefree by 2030. The evidence is clear that taking action on smoking will be critical to dramatically improving the health and wealth of the nation.
“Smoking costs society around £17 billion, of which the NHS alone spends £2.5 billion a year on treating smokers, and that cost is spiralling. A greater focus on prevention is needed.”
His findings will contribute to the Government’s Health Disparities White Paper, designed partly to cut huge differences in life expectancy across the country, and a planned Tobacco Control Plan for England. Both are due to be published this year.
The Government sees reducing health differences as a key part of its “levelling up” agenda. Currently, life expectancy varies wildly by location, with men from Blackpool, in the North West, living 74 years on average, while men in Kensington and Chelsea in London live an average of 84 years.
Reducing smoking would also provide a boost to household finances, with the average smoker spending £2,000-a-year on tobacco on average.
Anti-tobacco campaigners initially feared that e-cigarettes might prove attractive to non-smokers. But this does not appear to have happened and it’s now thought vaping can be promoted as a less harmful alternative for existing smokers.
A report published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Smoking and Health, which supports efforts to cut smoking, found: “Concerns that use of e-cigarettes among young people would grow rapidly and provide a new pathway into smoking have not materialised in the UK to date.”
It continued: “The vast majority of e-cigarettes are being used by adult smokers to help them quit smoking, cut down or prevent relapse.”
But there is concern that the Government will fail to meet its goal of making England “smoke free”, which it defines as fewer than one in 20 people smoking.
Conservative MP Bob Blackman, chair of the all-party group, said: “If we do carry on as we are, we will be lucky if we make England smoke-free by 2046, as opposed to 2030.
“Roughly 300 young people start smoking every day. When someone is hooked on smoking, they will almost certainly die prematurely. Radical action has to be taken.”