Let people vape on trains

Making it easier to vape will tempt more people away from cigarettes.

Martin Cullip

Topics Politics

The UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has released a report on its investigation into e-cigarettes. It made many recommendations about liberalising regulations surrounding their availability, sale and use.

It called for a more adult conversation about vaping and urged the government to address the incorrect belief of many businesses, institutions and sections of the public that e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking. Specifically, committee chair Sir Norman Lamb called for ‘a wider debate… to help arrive at a solution which at least starts from the evidence rather than misconceptions about their health impacts’.

The growth in the use of e-cigarettes has been rapid since 2012, when they went mainstream. And the public-health establishment has been left behind. It has applied entirely inappropriate anti-tobacco approaches to these devices, even though Public Health England has described them as at least 95 per cent safer than combustible tobacco.

The medical community has largely welcomed the committee’s report, but one aspect of it led to uproar on social media. The Times ran a piece entitled ‘Relax ban and let people vape on buses and trains, MPs urge’. The BBC reported that, ‘Rules around e-cigarettes should be relaxed so they can be more widely used and accepted in society’. Many media outlets focused on this same small part of the report.

The outrage was over the top; many were horrified at the very suggestion that vaping should be allowed on public transport and elsewhere. The objections all followed the same themes. People were convinced that this would mean huge clouds of vapour in every place they visit. Many said e-cigarettes should ‘remain banned’ in public places. Others declared that if vapers wanted to ‘kill themselves’ they should do so in their own spaces and not subject others to ‘toxic’ second-hand vapour.

Unwittingly, every comment along those lines backed up the 66-page report’s conclusion that there is a huge misunderstanding about what e-cigarettes are and how they are used, and that this misunderstanding is hampering efforts to tempt smokers away from tobacco.

Firstly, vaping is not banned in public, as smoking is, and the government has consistently said it has no plans to change that. Additionally, as the report clearly states, it has been ‘impossible to measure the risks from “second-hand” e-cigarette vapour because any potentially harmful compounds released into the surrounding area are so negligible’. Restrictions on vaping in certain places have nothing to do with government and are not based on any public-health threat. Mostly, anti-vaping policies have been installed because those applying them don’t understand anything about e-cigarettes, so banning them is the simple and lazy option.

Pubs, businesses and, yes, train companies set their own policies. All the report is saying is that they should be better informed as to what e-cigarettes are and how they are encouraging smokers to quit at a rapid rate. Some may change their policy, some may not, but it is better that they understand the debate so that they can make a more informed decision.

And why won’t these public institutions allow vaping? This brings us on to the widespread misunderstanding that vaping is all about huge clouds. It isn’t. For every ‘cloud-chaser’ you see pumping out large plumes on a high-wattage device, there are around 40 or 50 others who you won’t even notice are vaping. And for those who are adamant that e-cigarette use should never be allowed on trains and buses, I have news for you: vapers do it all the time. It isn’t difficult to ‘stealth vape’. It is almost certain that you will have been in a train carriage with a vaper and been none the wiser.

Blowing huge clouds in public is rude, just as eating a curry on a train would be considered rude – it is an issue of manners. But the vast majority of vapers don’t do that, and if rules were relaxed to permit considerate vaping, then most people would probably not even notice it was happening. Of course, there may be some people who are pathologically opposed to vaping on principle, but why should their prejudice interfere with someone’s efforts to use something safer than tobacco? There could be a vaping carriage on a train, or a stand at a cricket ground where vaping is allowed, leaving plenty of options for those who really can’t bear the idea of someone else quitting smoking around them.

Another fundamental misunderstanding of e-cigarettes is that they deliver nicotine in the same way as smoking. They don’t. The argument that vapers should go outside – or wait till they get off the train – to get their fix betrays a deep misunderstanding of how the devices work. Smoking delivers a huge, instant, nicotine dose that will give a smoker a peak that will last a fair amount of time. Vaping delivers far less nicotine but keeps the vaper at a level that they are comfortable with. Smokers binge, vapers graze. Just a puff here and there will be enough to stop a vaper going back to the fags. That is, after all, the point.

So why not allow vaping on trains? And in offices, pubs, buses and anywhere else? As the committee notes, there is ‘no public-health rationale’ for banning vaping, and all arguments against the idea are based on a lack of education of how they work. Norman Lamb’s committee has identified the potential that a more welcoming environment for vapers could have for the public’s health; it would be churlish to reject its commonsense recommendations for the sake of appeasing fears borne out of a lack of understanding.

Martin Cullip is a blogger and businessman.

Picture by: Wikimedia Commons / TBEC Review

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Topics Politics


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