Vaping and other reduced-risk nicotine products reduce national smoking rates

Posted on December 7, 2022 By Colin

A UK GOVERNMENT REPORT released today confirmed that vaping is reducing smoking rates in the UK.

In 2021, 13.3% of adults smoked in the UK according to the annual report by the Office of National Statistics. It was 14% in 2020. The report concluded that

Vaping devices such as e-cigarettes have played a major role in the decrease in smoking prevalence in the UK

In Great Britain 7.7% of people aged 16 or older were vapers, of whom 4.9% were daily vapers and 2.8% were occasional users.

Importantly, only 1.5% of people who have never smoked reported that they currently vape

Vaping rates were highest in the 16-24 year old age group. The largest reduction in smoking was in the 18-24 year age group, highlighting the role of vaping in reducing smoking in younger people, either by helping young smokers switch or diverting would-be smokers to the less harmful alternative.

Safer alternatives reduce smoking

The UK results are consistent with a recent analysis by Dr Karl Fagerstrom of the impact of reduced-risk products on smoking in other countries. Dr Fagerstrom found that countries with relatively high adoption of alternative nicotine products such as e-cigarettes, heated tobacco, and snus

had lower smoking rates compared to neighbouring countries where these products are less prevalent

For example, smoking rates in New Zealand where vaping is legal and accessible for adult smokers has declined much faster than in Australia.

Similarly, smoking rates in Sweden and Norway which have seen high take-up of 'snus' have seen much faster decline in smoking than neighbouring Denmark and Finland. Snus is a pasteurised tobacco product in a small pouch like a teabag placed under the upper lip, which releases nicotine to the user.

A dramatic reduction in smoking rates was also noted in Japan compared to neighbouring countries. Japan has seen a high takeup of heated tobacco products which have rapidly displaced smoking.

Dr Fagerstrom concluded that

The findings suggest that adoption of alternative nicotine products may help in reduce smoking prevalence faster than traditional tobacco control measures solely focused on prevention and cessation

Reform in Australia needed

A recent modelling study found that Australia will fail to reach its smoking targets by a large margin. The Australian government’s goal is to achieve <5% adult smoking prevalence by 2030.

Under the current restrictive approach to safer nicotine products, smoking prevalence would be 7.5% in 2080 for males and the 5% goal is only reached in 2064 for females.

The authors concluded that Australia’s strict prescription-only model is a barrier to the uptake of vaping

Greater access to NVPs [Nicotine Vaping Products] can create the potential for major reductions in smoking, and the replacement of smoking with vaping

The message from these reports for Australian regulators is clear. Safer nicotine alternatives such as vaping, snus and heated tobacco products are playing a major role in helping smokers quit in other countries.

These products should be made legal and more readily available to accelerate the sluggish decline in smoking, the leading cause of death and illness in Australia.

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