As the largest growing consumer goods sector in the UK, we tackle the contentious topic of vaping and the pressing need for an evidence-based approach to promote a healthier alternative to smoking.
UK VAPING INDUSTRY SPOTLIGHT
Although a phenomenon that has exploded in recent years, vaping is an undeniably controversial issue.
In a media storm that continues to favour clickbait-horror stories frequently plagued with misinformation and falsities, the true purpose and value of the industry – as an undeniably healthier alternative for adults looking to quit smoking – is being obscured in an endless game of smoke and mirrors.
As a result of an overwhelmingly negative media barrage, it has been reported that only a third of adult smokers are aware that vaping is a significantly less harmful option to smoking, despite widespread agreement from both medical professionals and the government confirming the same. Indeed, in 2022 data from the Office of National Statistics showed that smoking rates are now at their lowest levels since records began, crediting vaping as playing a ‘major role’ in that decrease, a conclusion further bolstered by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities.
Nevertheless, the industry today must confront the stark reality of the environmental issues and waste implications of a habit that primarily relies on single-use devices, and the fact that the number of children vaping aged between 11-17 has doubled within the past two years alone (as reported by a YouGov survey for Action on Smoking and Health).
The latter represents the industry’s greatest hurdle, as it seeks to impose more stringent regulations regarding the illegal sale of vaping devices to children, and the policing of marketing tactics that are at risk of targeting a young audience. In addition, manufacturing innovation is needed to promote the use of environmentally-friendly materials and recyclable alternatives, steering consumers away from disposable models.
The comparative health benefits of vaping to smoking make the industry a critical public health tool if the UK is to reach its ambition of being smoke-free by 2030. In addition, its economic benefits cannot be understated – not just in terms of revenue, but also in terms of saving costs for our overburdened public health system. In 2019, this translated to an estimated cost saving of over £300 million (as reported by the UK Vaping Industry Association).
However, the advantages that vaping can bring to the UK’s well-being, both in terms of public health and economically speaking, can only be realised both sensibly, and sustainably, if we fully acknowledge an evidence-based approach over misinformation – one that paves the way for regulating industry activity, and keeping vapes out of the hands of children.
Q&A WITH UK VAPING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION (UKVIA)
Championing the vision of a smoking-free future for the nation, we highlight the work of the leading trade association behind the UK’s £1 billion vaping industry
Founded in 2016 as a non-profit trade organisation to support, educate and inform its key stakeholders, while also acting as a unified voice for the industry, UKVIA is run by its members, for its members. Director General, John Dunne, tells us more.
Firstly, could you introduce us to the association – when were you founded and what is your vision?
John Dunne, Director General (JD): We are proud to have grown to become the UK’s biggest vape trade association working for our members to champion our industry and help fully realise the enormous potential for change that vaping can bring to adult smokers.
The UKVIA regularly engages with government officials, regulators, parliamentarians, trading standards departments, the media and other interested stakeholders to promote the industry and call for fair and sensible regulation.
With vaping gaining record levels of media coverage – much of it negative, misleading or just out-and-out false – as well as politicians facing demands to introduce even more regulations, our role is more vital than ever.
Our vision is quite simple. We want smoking to become a thing of the past in the UK. There are between 5.6 and 6.6 million adult smokers in the UK and we want every one of them to be aware that vaping could be the one thing that helps them quit cigarettes.
We can help do this by cutting through all the negativity in the mainstream media about vaping and providing the evidence-based facts about vaping so that the public health benefits of switching from smoking are fully realised.
What is your current take on the UK’s £1.3 billion vaping industry? Is it facing many challenges, such as the media’s perception of the health effects of vaping?
JD: When it comes to encouraging adult smokers to quit and regulating the vaping industry, the UK is often held up as the ‘gold standard’ for other countries to follow.
The Government, the NHS, regulatory authorities and influential members of the scientific community recognise that vaping plays a major role in helping adult smokers quit – in fact, for many former smokers, it has been the only method that has ever worked.
It is crucial that the Government continues to support vaping. The review by Dr Javed Khan into the Government’s smokefree goals said it would miss the target by at least seven years unless it took decisive action, including ‘the promotion of vaping as an effective tool to help people to quit smoking tobacco’.
The latest Office of National Statistics (ONS) data shows that smoking rates are at their lowest levels since records began and describes how ‘vaping has played a major role’ in this decrease.
In 2015 Public Health England (PHE) concluded that vaping was ‘at least 95 percent less harmful than smoking’ and PHE’s replacement, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID), confirmed the figure last year and concluded that it was clear that ‘vaping poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking’.
But this does not match with how the mainstream media reports on vaping. The red tops in particular seem content to chase clicks by printing vaping horror stories which have no basis in fact.
Not only is this irresponsible, but it is costing lives by discouraging smokers from switching – only a third of adult smokers are aware that vaping is a far less harmful alternative.
Concerns about the environment and youth uptake are big challenges for the industry, but we are working hard to find solutions to these while working to realise the full potential of vaping to help smokers quit.
What role does research play in the association’s work?
JD: Research is fundamental to the UKVIA’s work and a lot of our time and effort goes into making sure that our members, regulators, government agencies and other key stakeholders have evidence-based facts at their disposal.
We have seen how disinformation in the media about vaping is having a negative effect on smokers and the same, sadly, is true about other interested parties including the medical profession, politicians and the public.
It is of vital importance to state the facts about the relative risks of vaping compared with smoking – backed up by hard evidence – so that smokers can make informed decisions about how they consume nicotine.
But the vaping industry is much more than just a tool to help smokers quit, which is why we recently commissioned the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) to produce an Economic Impact Report on the value the industry added to the economy.
Among the findings of the report were that the UK vape industry’s aggregate turnover was valued at £2.8 billion last year; the sector supported almost 18,000 full time equivalent jobs in retail, manufacturing and the supply chain, and the estimated cost saving to NHS of smokers switching to vaping was over £300 million in 2019 alone.
We also do a lot of our own internal research to plan our activities, keep our members informed and come up with evidence-backed policies to help the industry fulfil its potential to assist the Government in meeting its smoke-free 2030 ambitions.
The UKVIA regularly provides evidence to support the industry for Government consultations on vaping regulations such as our ‘Blueprint for Better Regulation’, which drew heavily on published research and data to highlight how UK vaping regulations could be amended to encourage more smokers to quit.
Could you tell us more about VApril Awareness Month?
JD: VApril is the hugely successful UKVIA-led annual month-long campaign to promote vaping awareness amongst UK smokers.
Over the last six years it has established itself as the largest vaping education campaign in the world as countries around the globe use our resources to cut through the misinformation about vaping and give their smokers the facts they need.
Created and delivered by the UKVIA, VApril is dedicated to helping smokers choose the right vaping device, flavours and nicotine strengths that will give them the best chance to quit smoking.
We have full information on our VApril.org website and during the month we will run a paid social media campaign aimed at answering the most common questions that smokers have about vaping.
For 2023 we have produced a new guide to vaping responsibly – which covers everything from how you can take a responsible approach to vaping in public to disposing of your device in an environmentally-friendly way.
We also encourage vapers to give advice to current smokers looking to switch by using #VapingWorks on social media, and there is an easy-to-follow five-step ‘start vaping – quit smoking’ plan on the VApril.org website.
Are there any other initiatives, events or projects the UKVIA is working on that you would like to highlight?
JD: We have just held the first ever environmental summit for the vaping sector which brought together political, regulatory, environmental, recycling, consumer and vape industry experts to help deliver a ‘Greenprint for Sustainable Vaping’.
This is a very emotive issue, and we recognise that more must be done to help mitigate the effects on the environment without impacting the proven ability to help smokers quit.
This virtual summit brought together stakeholders with a key role to play in the greening of the vaping sector and put the spotlight on the whole supply chain from product innovation through to the waste being handled and dealt with.
Some of the best scientific minds in the industry are working hard to find more environmentally friendly materials for vaping products, especially single-use devices, but this is not exclusively an issue for the vaping industry to solve as regulators, policymakers and consumers all have a role to play.
Youth vaping is another topic which is gaining massive media attention and the UKVIA is clear that vaping is an adult-only activity designed to help smokers quit. This is why we have recently updated our ‘Preventing Underage Sales Guide’ for UK retailers and why we are calling for fines of up to £10,000 per instance for those who deliberately sell to children.
Finally, on 10th November in London, we will be hosting our annual UKVIA Forum and Industry Recognition Awards where we debate pressing issues, celebrate our successes and recognise those who have made an exceptional contribution to vaping over the year.
How do you see the industry developing over the next decade or so?
JD: Given that so much can happen in this fast-paced industry over a few weeks or months, it is very difficult to predict what things will be like in a decade or more.
I can certainly see more of a push into the convenience sector with expanded product offerings. Technological advances will no doubt continue, and the industry will also respond to both consumer demand and any changes required by regulators.
Finally, what are the UKVIA’s key priorities within that future?
PB: Our priorities will remain the same which are to represent our members, speak up for the industry, highlight the great power for good that vaping has to transform the lives of adult smokers for the better, and to push back against excessive or unreasonable regulation.
We will continue to fully engage with governments, the media, regulators and all relevant stakeholders so that smokers can be better informed about vaping and to give the UK the best possible chance to finally become smoke free.