Can you tell us about your role at the Adam Smith Institute?
I’m the Head of Research at the Adam Smith Institute and I’ve been here for nearly five years following a brief stint working in America. We’re a small team so everyone mucks in on various tasks (media outreach, educational work, events), but my main focus is commissioning, editing, and writin
g our research output. We aim to change public opinion and government policy on a wide range of areas, including tobacco harm reduction.
How did you become interested in the vaping sector. Do you vape yourself?
For me, it’s personal and political. I vaped at first and now use nicotine pouches; both helped me quit a 20-a-day smoking habit at university. Close family members have struggled with smoking-related illnesses and some have also quit with the help of safer alternatives so I’m very motivated to work in this area. From the political side, I see a wonderful example of an innovative, market-led, liberal solution to a long-standing public health problem: the carrot is more effective than the stick.
What benefits do you believe vaping brings to the UK, or has the potential to bring?
Vaping is an enormous UK success story – our harm reduction approach is world-leading and the rise of vaping has helped millions of smokers make the switch to a safer alternative. Aside from the well-evidenced health benefits of switching, it also tends to be far cheaper, something smokers should be especially aware of in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis. Research by the Adam Smith Institute found that the average smoker could save at least £1,000 annually from making the switch to vaping – in some regions of the UK that’s a boost to disposable income of more than 10%!
What opportunities has Brexit created for the industry?
Much less than I’d hoped for, at least so far! There’s still a concerted push from informed politicians to put post-Brexit regulatory reform on the Government’s agenda and the next few months will tell us how successful their efforts, alongside those of other advocates, have been. Relaxing limits on tank sizes, e-liquid nicotine concentration and most importantly product communication rules are all opportunities waiting to be seized.
In your opinion, what does the vaping industry do well? What could it be doing better?
It’s clear that the sector takes the issues of preventing underage vaping seriously, working with retailers and manufacturers to help contribute to the UK’s extremely low rates of regular underage use. Its collaboration on initiatives like VApril is also well-executed and helps introduce more smokers to safer alternatives. Going forward, I’m a little concerned that some parts of the industry are getting too comfortable with championing the latest raft of tobacco control measures. Whilst this would be good for business in the short-term, I’m not convinced many public health activists will leave vaping alone in the long-run. And as a liberal, I think smokers should make the switch because they prefer using a safer alternative: not because they’ve been bullied out of using cigarettes.
What do you believe are the sector’s biggest challenges?
The UK is a far more welcoming environment for vaping than most other countries, but misguided concerns threaten the sector’s future regulatory landscape, especially in Scotland. Crackdowns on flavours are still mooted despite strong evidence showing they play a key role in encouraging smokers to make the switch to the legal, regulated e-cigarette market. Even though youth use remains miniscule, largely experimental and concentrated among underage smokers, there are still those who would deprive millions of adult smokers of a safer alternative out of misplaced concerns around teen vaping.
What can be done to improve vaping’s image, both for consumers and also policy makers?
The key priority for consumers is undoubtedly addressing worsening misinformation about the relative risk of vaping compared to cigarettes. It’s arguably the single biggest problem with vaping’s image because it leads so many smokers to opt against making the switch to products that could save their lives. Advocates must push back against relentless junk science headlines and the Government could easily create a list of approved health statements for packaging and marketing materials, based on years of independent evidence reviews compiled by public health authorities. For lawmakers, it’s vital that they’re informed about the benefits of vaping on their constituency level – the difference vaping could and already has made to the people they represent.
Where do you see vaping policy heading in the next 5-10 years?
I’m optimistic that post-Brexit regulatory reform is still a question of when, not if. So despite recent plateaus in overall numbers I can see strong growth once we get those over the line. My hope is that other safer alternatives like heated tobacco and nicotine pouches are, in line with independent evidence, also considered for regulatory reform since a variety of alternatives will best cater to the different preferences of British smokers. So in the next decade I expect the vaping industry to continue growing, innovating and improving public health with the aid of substantial regulatory reform.