Wednesday 8 March 2017

The vaping revolution rolls on

The latest smoking prevalence figures from the Office for National Statistics will have disappointed the handful of crackpots who still claim that e-cigarettes are a gateway to tobacco that will cause a surge in smoking.

Between 2012 and 2015, the UK's smoking rate fell from 20.4 per cent to 17.8 per cent.* After a number of years when the smoking rate was barely budging, it is now dropping quite rapidly.

As the Guardian rightly notes, vaping is the best explanation for this renewed drop in smoking, but that didn't stop ASH trying to take the credit and demanding more money for itself.

Deborah Arnott, chief executive of ASH said: “The decline in smoking is very encouraging and shows that strong tobacco control measures are working. However, the government can’t leave it to individual smokers to try to quit on their own. If the downward trend is to continue we urgently need a new tobacco control plan for England, and proper funding for public health and for mass media campaigns."

ASH's grant from the government is supposedly given to 'support the tobacco control plan for England' - which seems to mean lobbying, in practice - so it is no surprise that they spend all their time demanding a new 'plan' and 'proper funding'. Deborah Arnott is constantly complaining that there is currently no tobacco control plan. She says it was supposed to be published 15 months ago, but it has been delayed. If there has been no tobacco control plan for ASH to 'support' what have they been doing with all that money from the taxpayer? Are they going to return it? I think we should be told.

More importantly, there is scant evidence that 'strong tobacco control measures are working'. You can see in the graph above that the smoking rate was falling steadily until 2007 when the smoking ban ushered in a wave of extreme anti-smoking policies. The ban itself was introduced in July 2007, the smoking age was raised from 16 to 18 in October 2007, graphic warnings were introduced in 2008, the tobacco duty escalator was introduced in 2008 and the ban on cigarette vending machines began in 2011. All this was combined with a bunch of anti-smoking advertisements which were so gruesome that some of them were banned.

The effect of this frenzy of prohibitions can be seen above, ie. nothing. The fall in smoking prevalence came to an end and the smoking rate stayed stubbornly at around the 20 per cent mark until e-cigarettes became mainstream in 2012-13. Between 2012 and 2015, the only anti-smoking law that was introduced was the display ban but that didn't come into effect until April 2015.  (There was also the ban on smoking in cars with minors but that didn't come into effect until October 2015 and no one believes that is going to reduce the smoking rate.) 

The only things achieved by 'strong tobacco control measures' are the mass closure of pubs, the maintenance of a large black market for cigarettes, and secondary poverty for low income smokers.

By contrast, e-cigarettes have given people who want to quit smoking an enjoyable and vastly safer alternative. Vaping has not led to a surge in smoking, nor was it ever likely to, despite the hysterical claims of 'public health' racketeers (though not ASH, to be fair). A study published today in Drugs Education, Prevention and Policy finds that the 'availability of e-cigarettes makes smoking appear less attractive to young people [and] discourages tobacco uptake'.

Neo-prohibition has failed. Let's hear it for the free market.

* The media have reported a rate of 17.2 per cent. This is what the ONS webpage says but their dataset says 17.8 per cent. I am waiting for clarification from the ONS on this point. A drop to 17.2 per cent would be quite sensational given  that the rate was 18.8 per cent in 2014. UPDATE: I haven't had official confirmation but someone at the ONS has suggested that the figures are different because 7.2% is for 18+ years whereas 7.8% is for 16+ years.

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