UK blasts Surgeon General; Calls vaping ‘a great public health opportunity’

When US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued his blistering opinion of e-cigs and vaping on Thursday, the news made headlines both here and abroad.  Many UK public health experts were particularly offended, claiming that Murthy is missing “a great public health opportunity” by failing to educate the general public on the life-saving benefits of e-cigs.

Professor Kevin Fenton, the UK’s Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, believes that when the Surgeon General continuously floods mainstream media with intentionally misleading information, the negative repercussions can potentially be felt around the world.  Great Britain and the United States take two very different approaches to vaping, and many in the UK fear that Murthy’s statements will undermine the message being promoted by UK public health officials.

“We (The UK) have comprehensive regulations in place, including a ban on selling e-cigarettes to under-18s and tough restrictions on advertising, as well as minimum standards for safety, maximum nicotine levels and health warnings on packs…Our review of the evidence found e-cigarette use carries a fraction of the risk of smoking, a conclusion reiterated by the Royal College of Physicians earlier this year. No new evidence has been published to contradict this,” Fenton stated.

The EU has the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) and the United States has the FDA deeming regulations, but both forms of vaping legislation are vastly different in both tone and content.

The FDA deeming regulations attempt to regulate the vaping industry by simply imposing million-dollar fees associated with the new Pre-Market Tobacco Application (PMTA).  Meanwhile, the TPD focusses more on advertising restrictions and safety standards to prevent vaping technology from exploding, among other related matters.

Another major difference is that physicians in the UK aggressively encourage patients to consider vaping and e-cigs as a healthy way to quit smoking.  By contrast, American doctors are being told by their Surgeon General to demonize vaping technology completely.

Surgeon General “conclusions do not tally with what the actual data show”

Peter Hajek is a Professor at London’s Queen Mary University and its Director of the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit, and he publicly denounced the Surgeon General’s recent statement by reiterating the previous findings by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) which classify vaping “as a great public health opportunity,” rather than a threat.

“The new US report’s conclusions do not tally with what the actual data show. It is simply not true that e-cigarettes are a tobacco product or that vaping lures children to smoking or that it creates dependence in non-smokers.”
“The prevalence of smoking among young people is at an all-time low and regular use of nicotine containing e-cigarettes among never-smokers is extremely rare. Ongoing vigilance is needed, but so far, e-cigarettes have acted as a gateway away from smoking, for adults and adolescents alike”
“The report also ignores the huge benefits of vaping for adult smokers in helping them switch from ‘deadly smoking.’”
“The worst part of the report is its policy recommendations. They may be well-meant, but no consideration is given to their likely unintended consequences. Limiting smokers’ access to the much less risky option of vaping is likely to contribute to keeping smokers smoking and smoking-related disease and death going at the current rate.”

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy might be a highly regarded medical professional, but he is also a politician.  And politicians around the globe are failing to comprehend the enormous power of their words and actions in an age when everything that they say and do has the potential to “go viral” in an instant.

Murthy might personally feel that vaping and e-cigs should be outlawed, but as a public health official, he has the sacred responsibility to inform and educate without letting his personal feelings influence his rhetoric.

The Surgeon General’s words and actions, and those of others like him, have the unique ability to change public perception and opinion across the globe.  And UK health officials like Fenton and Hajek are not afraid to call Murthy out when his “opinions” are in direct conflict with the mountains of existing scientific evidence to date.

Article Credit: Matt Rowland

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