Brits love e-cigarettes and ministers want to encourage them

VAFTER DO NOT lack of choice. Options range from a sleek Juul device (“a satisfying alternative to cigarettes”) to a more garish FreeMax product (“Taste the clouds, feel the flavors!”). Now the UK government wants to give them another one: a medically approved e-cigarette.

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The aim is to enable physicians to prescribe the devices to patients who wish to quit smoking. October 29, MHRA, the drug regulator, has encouraged manufacturers to submit their products for approval. If all goes as planned, England will be the first country to offer such prescriptions.

As a stroll down any main street littered with vape shops reveals, the country already loves e-cigarettes. According to Euromonitor, a research firm, the British spent £ 2.2bn ($ 3bn) on products in 2020, compared to £ 680m in France and £ 470m in Germany. Per person, no country spent more (see graph).

Most use them to quit smoking. Poll by YouGov for ASH, an anti-smoking outfit, finds that vapers over 18 are mostly former smokers (65%) or current (31%). Over the past decade, the share of adults who smoke cigarettes has increased from 20% to 14%. The government’s goal is to reach 5% by 2030.

YouGov poll reveals that the most common reasons smokers give for not vaping, besides not wanting to break their habit, are that they don’t want to trade one addiction for another, that they don’t think so. that it will help them to stop and because of safety concerns. . Ministers believe the prescriptions will help. Sajid Javid, the Secretary of Health, highlights the disparities in smoking rates between rich and poor. High taxes on cigarettes mean vaping is already relatively cheap, but a prescription would make it even cheaper. Being reassured by a doctor can help overcome safety concerns.

The government’s enthusiasm for vaping makes it an international outlier. The World Health Organization urges caution, concerned about the relative novelty of e-cigarettes. In May, a study group on tobacco product regulation called for a ban on devices in which users can control ingredients, which make up most of those sold in Britain. France and Germany are taking a hard line.

A recent Cochrane Review, which weighed all the evidence, said more was needed, but was “moderately confident” that e-cigarettes helped more people quit smoking than nicotine replacement therapy. or nicotine-free devices. Britain’s greater risk appetite may reflect the fact that much work on vaping in smoking cessation has been done by British academics.

Some of them argue that the international opposition is basically a moral crusade against the nicotine and tobacco companies, which have invested heavily in the market. Yet there are also more pragmatic explanations for the discrepancy. Britain already has high taxes and strict controls on sales, including plain packaging. Policy makers are therefore more encouraged to innovate.

All of this contributes to a very different atmosphere. It’s unclear whether this will be enough to draw manufacturers into the approval process, especially given the uncertainty over physician enthusiasm and the size of the market.

An executive says his tobacco company will look into the details of the MHRAthe announcement. The potential benefits include not only a stamp of approval, but lower taxes, more nicotine, and a license to make claims about how the product will help users quit smoking. The UK vaping market could be on the verge of expanding further.

This article appeared in the Great Britain section of the print edition under the headline “Vape nation”

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